When it comes to laughter, it appears that what is important is the social context in which it occurs. Therefore, what is said prior to laughter determines its effect more than any other single variable. In terms of social context, what matters is the sex of the individuals involved and whether they are friends or strangers. The laugh of a female who approaches a male who is a stranger will most likely have sexual overtones. A female’s laugh in a mixed group such as a business cocktail party will likely have flirtatious overtones. That exact same laughter, as heard by a nearby female, may result in an aggressive or withdrawal reaction that we might characterize as jealousy or competitiveness.

In a business setting, the dynamics of gathering a people, small or large, are even more influential in determining the effects of laughter. Is the boss in the group within hearing range? Are there political dynamics inherent in the group involving competition or strategizing? Perhaps that’s why laughter isn’t that common among business groups, unless the leader initiates the appropriate context. The mark of an effective motivational speaker is his or her ability to get the audience laughing. Then they are more likely to be all on the same wavelength, and the speaker has a better chance of influencing the audience.

Coming from the perspective of connecting with people and facing the emotional states in yourself and others in the moments you share means that your laughter is in a sensitive context of people with whom you have a connection. The authenticity you express will have the effect of making your laughter more connective with others. To the extent that one of the effects of laughter is to bring others into a synchrony of emotion (when it’s preceded by authentic communication), you and your associates will share a closer sense of community when you laugh together, and this can bring a greater sense of joy and meaning to work.

To learn more, read the revised and updated Relationship Economics paperback edition with 40 percent new content, including an all-new chapter 10 on social media and business relationships (Wiley, Feb. 2011).

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