Having a sense of humor boosts sales, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal

Sales isn’t always a barrel of laughs. But new research from the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University has demonstrated that a shared sense of humor at certain startups reduces anxiety and improves sales too.  

The study found that humor is very useful in diffusing tension in uncertain situations, such as competition from other companies with similar products. Humor helps teams interpret the uncertainty in a positive light and move forward with the challenge ahead rather than succumb to fear and anxiety. 

“Coping mechanisms that encourage a positive emotional tone within the team, such as humor usage, decrease negative emotions such as fear and anxiety, unlocking a team that is highly efficacious and able to reach their potential,” study author Keith Hmieleski told The Wall Street Journal. 

Hmieleski mailed questionnaires to the C-suites of randomly selected privately held companies that were less than five years old. The questionnaires asked executives to rate the accuracy of statements like “Team members use amusing stories to defuse conflicts” and “The demand for our products/services is difficult to predict.”

The results showed a significant correlation between the use of humor in uncertain citations and average sales per employee. Using humor to defuse tension was associated with average sales of a little over $300,000 per employee. Lack of humor in these same types of situations was associated with about $50,000 in sales per employee.

Hmieleski was quick to point out that there are many factors at play, and that results will vary for individual companies that employ this technique. However, he said, it’s very likely that using humor in this way will yield positive results.

Most of us have used or seen humor used to diffuse tension in awkward moments or a difficult situation. It’s the same setup in the workplace — when faced with a competing product that shakes up the viability of their own, “there may be very different opinions within the team regarding how to react, creating factions regarding what direction to take,” Hmieleski told The Wall Street Journal. “Humor might be used to defuse these tensions and bring the team together to jointly build out a range of strategic options for them to consider — which may eventually include ones that they have not previously considered.” This focuses efforts on solutions, rather than fear and anxiety over the situation. 

Dr. Hmieleski went on to say that team leaders have a particularly important role in reading the room, so to speak, and taking stock of the emotional states of each of their employees. They can lead the way with humorous stories or anecdotes to color the feeling in the room and embed humor in the company culture as a coping tool. Once this culture is established, it will be there for teams when they need it. 

Humor only gets you so far, of course. “Humor opens the door, and collective confidence gives you the capability to walk through it,” said Hmieleski. “So, you need to have them both.”

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