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Super Bowl, Trash Talk and Workplace Humor

Patrick Nelson, January 28, 2019


“You’re so dumb you brought a spoon to the Super Bowl.”

Have you heard that one before? I have…many times. When I was in the Army, insult jokes ran rampant. Fellow soldiers and I always sought to one up each other in an attempt to spark a laugh at each other’s expense.

Yes, trash talk is alive and well in our culture. It’s certainly alive and well this week as we approach the Super Bowl. You might be participating in office pools, and there might be some friendly fan vs fan banter. If we are honest, there might be some unfriendly banter, too, which is why I’m writing this Leadership Moment.

I’ve got some good guidelines around what’s funny, and what’s not, when it comes to workplace humor:

  • First, it’s not funny if you’re the only one laughing. A good joke involves everyone.
  • Don’t use humor to put someone down; use it to bring them up!
  • Don’t try too hard. If you have to force it, it’s probably not that funny anyway.
  • ALWAYS think before you speak. If it involves race, gender, orientation, ethnicity, it’s a no go. Don’t ever do it.
  • Make fun of things or events, not people.
  • If you want to start a joke by saying, “I probably shouldn’t say this, but…” then you probably shouldn’t say it. Doubt means “don’t.”

Remember: it’s just sports. I get it. Some people take their teams quite seriously. Think about the relationship and what you value more — a quick laugh or a friendship. If you feel moved to say “C’mon, I was just kidding!” or “Can’t you take a joke?” after you launch a joke, chances are you crossed a line. This is a time when you should apologize swiftly and take responsibility.

I hope everyone has a great week leading up to this important American cultural event, the Super Bowl. And if you’re not a football fan, thanks for tolerating the rest of us. We promise, it’s almost over.

And one other thing, Go Pats!

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