Is Your Humor Hurting You?

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Posted June 25, 2013 by Katherine Toll in Building Your Brand
American Masters

Have you ever had one of those days when people sense a self-doubt that’s not there? You’re just breezing through the day, but others make comments to you about ‘embracing who you are’, or ‘enjoying this time  in your life’.  I had one of these days recently, which prompted me to pause and reflect on why I attracted these comments. Is it my posture, my words, what?

Why were people reacting to me this way?

I paid attention to what I said and how I behaved for a few days until I figured it out: It was my humor, specifically my self-deprecating humor. Admittedly, it’s part of my shtick, but as I discovered, too much of it backfires making me sound like a female version of Woody Allen.

Humor (especially this form) masks a myriad of emotions – vulnerability, fear, anger, worthlessness, etc. I asked myself three questions about what purpose it served for me, so if you enjoy self-deprecation, read on!

  1. Is the specific situation prompting your humor to act in the name of your own self-protection? For instance, I struggle with mathematical calculations. Rather than risk the humiliation of ‘discovery’ I toss out a smart-ass comment about my crummy math skills instead of highlighting something in which I excel that adds value to the team.My solution: Zip It! As in – bite your tongue. Avoid throwing yourself under the bus unwittingly.
  2. Are you afraid of looking too confident, or coming off as a know-it-all? Often times, we qualify our ideas, or opinions with what seems like lighthearted humor to avoid sounding (God Forbid!) too confident. We use phrases like, ‘I might be an idiot, but’, to preface our thought. Social Scientist, Malcolm Gladwell refers to this as ‘mitigating our speech.’ When we use this speech pattern we come across as deferential, or tentative, not at all funny.  (As an aside, women mitigate their speech far more than men do. Shocker.)My solution: Skip the qualifier and share your opinion then SHUT UP.
  3. Are you trying to make other people feel more comfortable? I loathe it when others feel uncomfortable. It agitates me, so I move into ‘fix-it’ mode, which means I become the comic relief. Sometimes this behavior serves a purpose, and other times—it backfires. The tension breaks, but now I’m perceived as the class clown.My solution: Sit with the discomfort for a while. Life is not always easy, or funny, so let people feel the way they need to feel.

Take time this week to pay attention to how you communicate. If you typically use self-deprecation as a communication tool, then use it with discretion. Some might perceive your humor as a lack of confidence, instead of the wildly witty woman we know you are!


About the Author

Katherine Toll

Katherine (Kathi) Toll possesses more than 20 years of management and consulting experience within the retail and beauty industry. Her industry experience combined with her special brand of irreverence fuels her mission to find the ‘must-have’ beauty products for Career Girls of all ages. She aspires to remind women the airbrushed perfection of the beauty industry must be tempered with a healthy dose of humor. Kathi holds a general management certification from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, along with an undergraduate degree from Northwestern’s School of Communications.

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