Humor Can Be Hurtful

Today is Friday, so this post is on interpersonal competence.

I did a post on Don Imus last week, saying that I wouldn’t do any more.  However, a column on Imus in the Sunday, April 22 Denver Post caught my attention – and it applies directly to today’s topic of interpersonal competence.

Gail Schoettler is a former US ambassador and Colorado Lieutenant Governor.  Her comment this past Sunday was entitled, Imus’ Comments Are a Lesson For Us All.  Here is what she had to say in part…

“Imus’ fall from favor is a lesson to all of us.  Ridiculing someone really isn’t funny.  If you have to demean others to get a laugh, maybe it’s time to figure out why you think that’s the way to be funny.  Maybe it’s time to put yourself in the skin of those you disparage.  It’s one thing to poke fun at yourself.  It’s quite another – and truly unacceptable – to be funny at the expense of someone who can’t fight back…

“Humiliating people is simply a way to hurt them.  And why is that funny?  Making others feel scorned does nothing positive.  When it comes from a boss, it certainly doesn’t motivate people to perform better.  When it comes from a talk show host, it only feeds prejudice.  When your audience laughs at your insulting comments about those different from them, it only shows their – and your – bigotry.  There’s nothing to be proud of in that.”

Right on Ms. Schoettler!  I agree 100%.  Hurtful humor is never positive.  Interpersonally competent people simply don’t get laughs at other people’s expense. 

Locker room humor – getting laughs at the expense of others – is one of the biggest warning lights to me when I work with my consulting clients.  I find that organizations with cultures that not only permit, but encourage, such behavior most often have big problems.  Usually there is a lot of seething resentment underneath all of that supposedly fun banter.

While you might not be able to control the culture of the organization where you work, you can control your own behavior.  Interpersonally competent people use humor appropriately.  They do not use it to humiliate or in any way denigrate another person or group of people.

Think about it.  Do you make people the butt of your jokes?  If you do, cut it out.  It’s hurtful to other people – and it shows that you are an interpersonal incompetent.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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