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Do you see differences in how men and women generally use humor? Women sometimes describe “male humor” as raucous “bashing.” Men are sometimes perplexed at what makes women giggle. Max and Fran, our prototypes for masculine and feminine approaches at work, find different things funny. On the masculine side of the masculine-feminine continuum in the area of humor is “Stir Up.” On the feminine side is “Smooth Out.”

Max’s form of humor involves poking fun at others. Pranks or putting another down can signal friendship. Consistent with the masculine worldview, he uses humor to establish his position, “score a point,” and demonstrate his status over the one he is “putting down.” Max also uses humor to test someone—to see if she or he can “take it.”

For Fran, putting another down would violate the priority of maintaining relationships. Fran knows that another woman might take a jab or prank personally and she could lose a friend. Her humor is used to create connections and to smooth out tensions. She is more likely to poke fun at herself than others. Self-deprecation makes it clear she sees her status as equal to that of others.

Below is a summary of the two sides of the continuum in the area of workplace relationships:




Uses humor to create energy, stir things up Uses humor to bond, smooth things out
Laughs at others’ predicaments Is self-deprecating; laughs at own predicaments
Uses humor to challenge or “one up” another Uses humor to comfort, connect
Uses personal jabs to show approval, liking Finds personal jabs hurtful
Uses pranks Dislikes pranks


Does this help you understand an incident that once perplexed you? Share your experiences and stories about humor in a comment!