Success with humor: how to use laughter to boost your career

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Saturday, April 6, 2024, 7:00 am

Humor is not only good for the soul, but it can also accelerate your career. Eva Ullmann, humor expert, explains how laughter livens up meetings, arouses sympathy and can even reduce stress and tension.

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Why humor is good for your career?

Humor can accelerate your career and make work life easier. Meetings, sympathies, status, assertiveness, disinterest, presentations, negotiations, project goals, costs, audits, quality management. Working life offers many opportunities that can be boring and complicated or where you simply need a lot of attention on an important topic. And nobody listens to you.

In practical terms, humor can do two things for your career: Humor can increase attention significantly and quickly. And humor in the right amount can reduce stress and tension. Sounds interesting? Then this article is worth it for you.

The rule of three: disappointing an expectation

Once you've placed a two-point line on your audience's expectations, it's about placing the third point in a way that makes it humorous. Many cabaret artists work with a humorous touch as part of a set list. Eckart von Hirschhausen says in his program: “Humor comes easily to us when we have eaten and slept enough and know who we are sleeping with at that moment. Then it's easy for us to say: “What I'm most looking forward to when I'm retired: learning a new language, traveling a lot, dying.”

Not fun enough? Okay, so she keeps trying. What do you need to clean windows at home? 1. Cleaning bucket 2. Cleaning supplies 3. A cleaning lady. Better? Threesome jokes come easy to me when I write them, but that may be different for you.

About the expert Eva Ullmann

Eva Ullmann has been working as a humor expert, author and speaker for many years. She founded the German Institute of Humor in Leipzig and travels to numerous training courses and conferences at commercial institutions and companies in German-speaking countries. Ullmann is a member of Club 55, the European Association of Marketing and Sales Experts. New impulses of humor constantly appear on the Humorinstitut YouTube channel. Her current book: “
Humor is the boss's job: leading, negotiating and presenting better: this is how the imprint of humor is developed.

Can everyone learn humor? If so, how can you train humor?

Everyone can learn humor. We did this when we were children and we can do it even more when we are adults. Why do you like to smile? When can your friends laugh at you? Training humor doesn't mean memorizing 100 jokes. Instead, ask people you trust for feedback – when do your colleagues or best friends actually find it funny? If you are good at telling stories; then train that more. You may prefer to use strange metaphors and images. Great, then try more. Some people are incredibly diverse in their gestures and facial expressions. Others can and should try to exaggerate even more. Here's another humor technique: Counterattack: Show a clear advantage.

My favorite answer from Hazel Brugger is this. The journalist asks: “And what is it like to be a woman on stage?” Hazel Brugger: “And what is it like when, as a journalist, you can't think of intelligent questions?” A counterattack uses part of the Attack to recover the ball and use the opponent's resources to do so. A counterattack sets a limit. In a sense, you put up a stop sign. Clear and clearly visible. Another manager comments disapprovingly on your dress: “Is it available in your size?” and you say, “It's exciting that you say that.” This technique establishes limits. However, this is not a de-escalation, but rather a declaration of war. You must be aware of this consequence.

What does humor have to do with repartee and how can you improve this skill?

Acuity means being able to deal with a spontaneous situation. So, having a funny response to an unexpected conversation situation or even an attack. This is a very special situation with high expectations. If you're not witty, you don't need to memorize ten standard responses, but you can practice humor techniques. The best thing is to start. Reinterpretations: Relax your colleagues in three seconds.

The term reframing or reframing comes from therapy and also applies to less important problems. Humorous reinterpretations are a simple trick to release tension in oneself and others. For many people, setbacks and mistakes are embarrassing events that happen every day. As you can imagine, they are also good fodder for humor. Reinterpretation means an unusual, exaggerated, positive, and sometimes even intentionally incorrect interpretation of the situation. The goal is to create laughter and therefore relaxation. This will help you train your evaluative or social sense of humor.

Setback: The projector fails during a board presentation.

Reinterpretation: “Today we are doing something for the environment and saving electricity.”

Alternative: “The projector has already finished working. Then I will dance the rest of the performance for you.”

You can probably think of other everyday mishaps – this is the perfect training material for your replicas.

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How can humor be used in conflict situations and what benefits does it provide?

An examiner or an auditor came to a company. And as with many exams: everyone is excited and the atmosphere is not particularly relaxed. The auditor broke the ice by arriving at the audit wearing sunglasses and the posture of a high-ranking police officer and saying dryly, “You were hoping you could pass me. Unfortunately I have to disappoint you. The terrible day of the audit has arrived!” Everyone laughed and the audit was passed in that relaxed mood. Management was very grateful for the combination of seriousness and joy with which he carried out the audit.

You can make it easier for your colleagues or clients to negotiate (for them) boring, difficult or annoying topics by removing danger from the conversation atmosphere. Sometimes just the danger of boredom. Of course, you still stick to your opinion, your ideas and your facts. You can be funny with your conversation partner if you stick to the point and negotiate hard.

Use a good portion Self-irony with. In addition to your competition, allow yourself to be ironic with yourself. So don't take yourself too seriously. To overcome cocoa with a story. Try to react with humor even in difficult negotiations and when dealing with employees.

Why is humor important for mental health and how to integrate it into everyday life?

Humor can make our work lives much easier. Humor distances problems. It allows us to endure uncertainty. So we talk about the so-called tolerance of uncertainty. Humor can relax stressful moments. Ease contributes to our health bill. The more humor we invest in the good times, the more we can retreat into the difficult times, the next illness, or the next coronavirus lockdown. Here's another humor technique:

Intentional misunderstanding: Don't take the matter seriously!

Are the children in bed?



Oh no, I picked up other people on the playground.


Just fun. They are both in bed.

We have three.


This is what dialogue looks like when you intentionally misunderstand your partner. By intentionally misinterpreting the situation, you can change your perspective in a meeting in a very harmless but lightening way. Tenor Thomas Quasthoff, affected by thalidomide, likes to deliberately misinterpret things when he says: “There are 80 million disabled people living in Germany. I'm lucky people can see it.” Great humor that definitely cuts out too much pity.

Can you present the 6 most important humor techniques and explain how to use them effectively?

In the previous article I have already explained 5 humor techniques in a brief and simple way. Finally, here is another technique (and there are many more!):

Exaggeration, controlling the volume of humor.

Exaggeration is the control of the volume of humor. Without exaggerating you won't make anyone laugh. It's about finding the right dose for each situation and for everyone involved. So take your own “strengths” and “quirks” and exaggerate them. No one gets hurt because the only person you're making fun of is yourself. Exaggerate little by little.

  • I can cook so well that someone comes to eat every day.
  • I'm so good at cooking that I moved my office into the kitchen.
  • I can cook so well that God is already asking me for recipes for heaven.

In general, the following applies: Sharpen your empathy for your counterpart's mood and enjoy experimenting. Provides a good dose of self-irony. When faced with difficult negotiations and dealing with employees, try to react with humor. Stay relaxed if things go wrong. Keep trying! Allow yourself strange and meaningless images! Colleagues and even superiors thank you with immediate attention and follow you more than expected.

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This text comes from an expert from the FOCUS online Circle of EXPERTS. Our experts have a high level of specialist knowledge in their subject area and are not part of the editorial team. Learn more.