How much of yourself do you show to your coworkers?
December 19, 2016 6:40 AM   Subscribe

I try to be friendly and jokey with my coworkers, but I seem to get burned by it pretty frequently. How do you strike the right balance between professionalism and "casual" in the workplace?

Typically I get burned when there is a sense of humor mismatch, or if someone gets promoted and the buddy-buddy routine becomes uncomfortable. I find it hard to anticipate these situations.

I don't have a huge social life outside of work so it would be nice to hang out with people at work from time to time, but I don't want to get so familiar that it sets me up for alienation in the future. I definitely don't want to offend people or damage my reputation. Where do you draw the line?
posted by deathpanels to Work & Money (42 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Whew. It depends. I think the best answer is to gauge the environment. You don't want to be the outlier telling crass jokes or sharing lots of personal details. On the flip side, that's not required to be casual and friendly.

I've always reserved myself at work - used the formal/full version of my name, not been facebook friends with coworkers, etc. All the same, I'll grab a beer after work with some people, tell jokes, ask questions about personal life (as in, "What did you do this weekend?" and "What other things are you into?" to develop a relationship - not, like *personal details*) and share the same.

I don't know how to describe the line. I think everybody finds it and creates it for themselves.
posted by entropone at 6:53 AM on December 19, 2016 [10 favorites]

Typically I get burned when there is a sense of humor mismatch

Can you give an example? You're worried about offending people, but do you have some reason to think your sense of humor is offensive? It seems at least as likely that you're just uncomfortable being the weird guy who laughs at stuff that others don't recognize as funny. You might not like standing out in that way, but it's not inherently bad. It might help to practice discerning whether the discomfort you sense is really being expressed by someone else, or if it's a private thing that's just washing over you.
posted by jon1270 at 6:54 AM on December 19, 2016

Yes, can you tell us what you mean by getting burned? It sounds like you're talking about either not gelling with people or the dynamic changing after someone gets promoted, is that right?
posted by lunasol at 7:14 AM on December 19, 2016

My sense of humor waffles between goofy and somewhat dark deadpan sarcasm. This can backfire pretty easily, unfortunately.. I also sometimes slip into "gallows humor" about certain frustrating parts of the job, which I've discovered a few ultra-serious people take as an attempt to destroy morale instead of just commiserating about a problem we all know about.

I get that this sense of humor can be off-putting but it seems to be a non-issue in most cases when the other person is on the same level as me. When it's a person who is (or believes they are..) in a supervisory role, this can go over badly.

To explain that last parenthetical a bit – I work in a company that has tripled in size over the time I've worked here (several years). It started as a small, tight-knit group that was a lot more jokey and open. With that growth came a culture shift. So what was passable joking between colleagues 2-3 years ago has gradually become less acceptable, and it's hard to put that genie back in the bottle.

I should also add that because of this growth burst, it took a long time to get formal manager-worker relationships in place. I didn't actually have an official manager until about a year ago, and my current manager is a guy who was at the same level as me 2-3 years ago. It's hard for me to figure out the norms for this relationship,
posted by deathpanels at 7:27 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's always going to be a bit of disconnect between "work persona" and "outside of work persona" because there aren't rules and regulations (I mean, other than laws) that are in place when you're in a private setting. So yes, if you're used to joking in a certain way with a couple of close co-workers, then you're going to have to adjust when your company expands, or new people are added to the mix.

I don't see it as cutting off part of yourself, but more a sense of knowing that there are a diverse group of people who have been put together for the purpose of making a living, and you have to make sure that everyone is comfortable, even if that means toning things down a bit overall.
posted by xingcat at 7:34 AM on December 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

Jokes are not about laughing. They are about defining a social space and the 'in crowd' and 'out crowd' in that space. The workplace isn't a place for witty banter or gallows humor. I would actually suggest you beef up your social life outside of work so that you are getting the social things you need in a more appropriate environment.

I'm not sure why it's hard to put the genie back in the bottle, other than the fact that you don't want to do it. Get another social outlet and just don't feed your desire to make jokes at work.

I also wonder if by goofy you mean "frat pack" type of humor. I've had a lot of dudes in workplaces think that this stuff is funny and goofy and "all in good fun" but when you're on the wrong side of things it's really not fun. Especially at work. I'm just trying to work, man, I don't want to navigate around all this nonsense and social bullshit.

In my view the best humor at work is none at all. Being friendly doesn't require that you make jokes. I don't think my colleagues think I'm boring or mean but I also don't think any of them would say I'm particularly funny (but in private I am downright hilarious, or so I've been told).
posted by sockermom at 7:37 AM on December 19, 2016 [30 favorites]

You're right, this can be especially hard when the group you're working with has grown and changed over the years. I learned better work boundaries only when I moved to a very different group with a more formal and professional way of interacting. And then even when a colleague became a boss, it was pretty easy to step it back to more distance and professionalism.

The big change I would make is to not joke with management for awhile, until you see the level of jokiness they're willing to present. If this means that you bite your tongue about the shared misery, or only agree that it's tough, that kind of stinks (compared to the old, seemingly more humane way), but it will help you be the professional one.

With folks you know pretty well who aren't higher level than you, read the group of course, but it's also less damaging if you have a mismatch here and there. If you get the impression someone was offended by one of your quips, feel free to say something like, "oh, did my dark humor just get out of hand again? My bad, hey about work stuff we can fix..."
posted by ldthomps at 7:40 AM on December 19, 2016

You know, I get you. I've learned over the past 15 or 20 years that gallows humor can just come off as complaining-- but also that it's more effective and amusing in small doses. And I'm probably 75% gallows humor by volume! So it's hard for me to suppress that sometimes. I text mean comments to my spouse or friends in my field who aren't at my company sometimes. I don't want to be perceived as having a bad attitude. I'm also now senior enough that a little dark humor goes a long way -- but for someone more junior, the observational comedy can just feel like overwhelming negativity.

So I try to find a sunnier and kinder part of myself -- I dig deep, don't get me wrong-- to present to my colleagues. Not just can-do spirit, but leading with love. It sounds grossly hokey, but I don't have a better way to say it.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:44 AM on December 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

I would stop making jokes at work. Insofar as you're acknowledging the activity as "making jokes" (as opposed to making a face, Halpert-style, at an appropriate moment). For reasons explained in other answers here, it can be really exhausting to deal with a jokester at work. It tends to do more harm than good.

And dear gods, please don't be this Halpert. Ever.

Another thought is whether your company has smaller groups, or if there's an informal group based around a hobby that you could join. At my current workplace, I'm in a book club with a few of my women coworkers, and we have become close friends outside of work. Other coworkers meet regularly to work out or play raquetball together. Prior to this, I worked at a huge corporation and there were a number of groups that met regularly--breakfasts and cocktail hours for young professionals, prayer gatherings for religious groups, a soccer team, etc. It seemed like a good way to boost morale and build relationships with predictable, agreed-upon norms.
posted by witchen at 7:48 AM on December 19, 2016

I don't think I really come across as parroting Ben Stiller et al. I think it's more things like deliberately taking a stupid/absurd position in an argument and displaying mock-anger at everyday things.

For a concrete example, I like to jokingly rage about how much I hate radishes. There's a whole rant around it that I've built up, like a little standup routine. To me, this is a way of getting people to laugh and loosen up a bit. This works fine in the right group, but in a mixed group it's hit or miss. Occasionally someone will say something like "wow, you have some issues", completely missing the joke.

Stuff like this makes me worried that people generally see me as some kind of dark, complainy crazy person. It was never an issue when we were 10-15 people, but with 60-70 employees, many of whom I rarely interact with, it seems impossible to make it work.
posted by deathpanels at 7:49 AM on December 19, 2016

My sense of humor waffles between goofy and somewhat dark deadpan sarcasm. This can backfire pretty easily, unfortunately.. I also sometimes slip into "gallows humor" about certain frustrating parts of the job, which I've discovered a few ultra-serious people take as an attempt to destroy morale instead of just commiserating about a problem we all know about.

I agree about walking back the jokes/humor at work. If you're all eating lunch together and it's a very casual place then yeah, maybe. Otherwise it sounds like people at your job want to just work, without socialization overlaying it. There are obviously companies that are much friendlier and more relaxed, but the one you're at has a different work culture. It might be worth it to just settle back and simply observe for awhile, especially since it sounds like the work culture has changed while you've been there.

Incidentally, as someone dealing with some big morale issues in a nonprofit I volunteer for, your gallows humor actually can and possibly is bringing morale down. Stop doing that.
posted by kalimac at 7:49 AM on December 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

For a concrete example, I like to jokingly rage about how much I hate radishes. There's a whole rant around it that I've built up, like a little standup routine. To me, this is a way of getting people to laugh and loosen up a bit. This works fine in the right group, but in a mixed group it's hit or miss. Occasionally someone will say something like "wow, you have some issues", completely missing the joke.

Hah, sorry, I had posted before I saw this. I hope I can give you a read of what might be going through co-workers heads, because I think I agree with them more than you.

Okay, so outside of work, this would set my teeth on edge, but that's because we clearly have different senses of humor. If we were friends outside of work and you made these jokes, I wouldn't laugh, but y'know, we'd probably have enough else in common.

If you made these jokes at work, I would be...not amused. Possibly annoyed. (Definitely annoyed if I just. want. to. work. and some dude is doing a performance art humor piece concerning his feelings on radishes.) I don't want to loosen up at work, I want to get my bloody work done, you know? I will relax when we've met the deadline or whatever!

You say it seems impossible to make it work, and that's because...apparently it is? Dial back the humor in those big groups. You can be cheerful and friendly (or sardonic or whatever) and relax people a lot more than with goofy or black humor. And maybe start planning to either get more of a social life outside of work or, if that's impossible (and no judgements there!), seek out a small group of friends at work who share your sense of humor. It sounds like your job is really formalizing, and that can be hard to deal with, but that's still what's happening.
posted by kalimac at 7:59 AM on December 19, 2016 [29 favorites]

Being funny requires reading the room and it doesn't seem that you're good at it so I'd suggest that you back off for a while. Jokes that are rants (even against radishes) can make you come across as overly negative, especially if it's about work, even if it's justified. Being around people that are frequently complaining is a downer.

When it's a person who is (or believes they are..) in a supervisory role, this can go over badly. ... my current manager is a guy who was at the same level as me 2-3 years ago. It's hard for me to figure out the norms for this relationship

It feels like there's some bigger issues going on that just joking.
posted by Candleman at 8:03 AM on December 19, 2016 [14 favorites]

Keep in mind, if there is ever a negativity problem in your workplace, your jokes and things will seem much more negative than they would elsewhere. Also, you are possibly creating a sense of exclusion based on who does and doesn't "get" your humor. I guess you could say you are asking for emotional labor from people at work, rather than propping them up.

I was in a very negative workplace for a while and started practicing as much kindness and gratitude as I could. People probably thought I was icky because I overdid it; if i had it to do again I would try to be more subtle but at least I knew I wasn't adding to the negative noise around the place. And I did notice I got a lot of favors from people while doing that.
posted by BibiRose at 8:07 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

As someone who has an odd sense of humor, I've struggled with this as well.

At this point, I find it works to dial back the humor and try to focus my interactions around positive work or social interaction. Show an interest in ppl's kids and what they did on the weekend. And instead of making a wry remark about what they did on the weekend, keep it sincere. "Sounds like your kid's birthday party was great!" "Sorry about that plumbing disaster, wow."

I used to be quite sarcastic all the time, until I finally caught on that my boss had trouble distinguishing between my sarcasm and sincerity and it was undermining the relationship. I dialed way back after that.

Humor in the office works best either when it's light-hearted or between people who have already established a good bond.

Humor can be tricky. My other piece of advice is that when you do realize a joke has caused offense, don't fall into the trap of being defensive - "oh don't be so uptight/ relax!/ it was a JOKE!" just say "I was trying to be funny. I'm sorry. I actually think your sweater looks fine." This has a much better chance of reassuring people that your humor is not a passive-aggressive attempt to make mean jabs at them.
posted by bunderful at 8:09 AM on December 19, 2016 [25 favorites]

Using your example, if I were sitting at lunch and heard this, I would be put off by it. I mean, lunch is for meals and mild chit chat and checking in. If someone goes off on a bit of a rant/tangent, I would find it odd. Am I supposed to stop what I'm doing and listen to this? Are you being serious? Trying to be funny? It's confusing and perhaps a bit alienating. I just want to sit and chill and eat and make small talk. Your reading of the room as a good place to have a fun rant is a bit off. It's a place to have conversations.

And I think you need to be really careful with deadpan sarcasm. It often reads as rudeness and smartassedness and cruelty and that you're talking down to people. Without specific examples, it's hard to know. But generally deadpan sarcasm shuts people down and turns them off. It can read that you're trying too hard to be the cleverest person in the room which can feel obnoxious.

Ask people about their weekends, holidays, kids, pets, whatever. You may get better results if you're inquisitive and not sarcastic.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:20 AM on December 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

If you have 'bits' or 'standup routines' that you're doing, you might also come off as trying too hard to be funny/desperate for attention. Try being genuine and having real conversations with people instead of focusing on scoring laughs.
posted by imalaowai at 8:25 AM on December 19, 2016 [26 favorites]

You just can't do those things, it doesn't play well at work. Some of the reason why is explained in an old Scalzi essay: The Failure Mode of Clever. (Spoiler: the failure mode of Asshole. People feel insulted when you make jokes they don't get, among other things.)

It's just not a receptive audience, and even amazing comedy isn't very funny if you're not primed to receive it. And "angry" bits play terribly to an unprimed audience, and there's no winning - if you're a white guy, at least it's only considered creepy; if you're a woman it comes off irrational and if you're a person of color you're a threat. (And as far as white guys go, every place I've worked where "we like to have fun" or "we're a drinking company with a software problem" has mostly only been fun for the white guys; everyone else just has to tolerate it.)

Work is not your stage. Your sarcasm just comes out sounding sarcastic and bitter. Nobody at lunch really wants to hear your radish bit, especially not more than once. You lucked out at one point in time where you had a clique and there were enough of you that it seemed like it was okay to do (chances are so high you were putting off somebody, though, who didn't feel like they had the power to do anything about it), and wanting to find a way to get that back is not congruent with the realities of most workplaces. Most people at work need to appear to take their work seriously, or do take it seriously. Most of the time it's only the very young, least-senior staff who can get away with being the party crowd, and then if you want to move up or you get moved up you have to put the party hats away.

My general advice to people is don't make friends at work. Like, you might happen to stumble across someone you'll be outside-of-work friends for decades and that's fine, but keep it out of the office. Treat everyone in the office with a pleasant but polite and reserved friendly respect. Don't clique (that's a thing that comes into the decision-making process during layoffs - you may not be playing company politics, but if one of your "allies" is and they lose, you lose too), be so careful with the in-jokes, don't look to get your chuckles there, don't look to find your lifemate or best friends there, because work is fragile and it's also how you keep a roof over your head.

Go join a club or volunteer or take a class if you're having trouble making friends. It's like work, except the stakes are lower and people can more be themselves. (Still, watch it with the rant bits - you age out of that being cute faster than you think.)
posted by Lyn Never at 8:45 AM on December 19, 2016 [53 favorites]

a way of getting people to laugh and loosen up a bit

Yeah, that's all well and good on your own time, but its probably pretty safe to say that "getting people to laugh and loosen up" isn't your job. Being friendly is one thing; acting as if you're the company mood police is a whole 'nother and very objectionable thing, and yeah I too would see you as some kind of crazy person. Your coworkers are trying to work, they aren't there for a comedy act.

Lyn Never has it: treat everyone in the office with a pleasant but polite and reserved friendly respect. I.e., unless you work at a comedy club, drop the jokes and standup routines, that stuff is just annoying folks who are trying to work.
posted by easily confused at 8:53 AM on December 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

When I find myself using humor in certain ways it's sometimes fueled by anxiety. Do I fit in, do people like me, am I doing a good job, why don't I get invited to lunch. It's important to give myself a release valve for that tension, but I find my life is usually better when I don't try to do that with the people who are stressing me out.

Have you tried improv or even standup? For me improv is a wonderful way to get to really enjoy the full range of my weird-ass humor and get actual applause for it. And bond with other funny people outside of work.

Also, when I feel my life outside of work is rewarding and full of quality connection, I feel less stressed about my work connections.
posted by bunderful at 8:54 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am someone who skews to the dark/surreal side of humor and has found that being able to read the room is essential. I can make jokes at my current workplace that I'd never have made at my old one, but there are also some jokes that even here I will make in my favorite coworker's office but not in a staff meeting. He and I share a particular sensibility, and a set of pop cultural references, that our coworkers don't, so going off on one of our shared humor tangents would just be annoying in a room with everyone else. Being able to read context and modulate depending on the people in the room and the topic is essential, and if that's a problem for you, I'd dial way way back. I certainly would not try to wield your sense of humor to change a room's tone or mood; that's almost never going to be appropriate.

Even I don't think it would ever be a good idea to do some sort of canned semi-stand-up-ish bit about - well, anything. That's just using your coworkers as a backdrop for showing off your own cleverness, which is not a great way to relate to them. Same with taking an absurd side in an argument - if it's a break-room argument over like, Pepsi vs. Coke, maybe. But in an actual work topic? People are trying to get shit done. Don't play devil's advocate for laughs.

Short version: Dial way back and let other people lead the way here. You can match the level/type of humor other people around you are bringing to a meeting, if they are, but don't escalate it or try to shift it in another direction. Possibly after you've done this for a good long while you'll get better able to read people and can take some more risks, but it sounds like for now that's not a good idea.
posted by Stacey at 9:01 AM on December 19, 2016 [13 favorites]

So, I had a very difficult time with this when I first left the Army. The types of humor and interaction that were acceptable there were completely unacceptable in a workplace environment. We could afford to have a "radish guy", The guy who did weird impression, a guy with gallows humor, whatever, because we were by nature much more closely knit.

But this new workplace is larger, and thus much more professional. Not only has their culture permanently shifted, they probably also have an HR department who can receive complaints about jokes - especially if some of them are "mock angry".

I understand the mourning of the time that used to be at the workplace, but it's definitely important to know and remember that you can't go back to that place, it will never be the same as you remember. You need to just not give much of your internal life to people at work, you'll do much better.
posted by corb at 9:16 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Doing a long, involved, pre-planned bit in the middle of a conversation- in any context, not just work- comes off to me, sorry, as interrupting the natural flow of conversation and saying "mom mom look what I can do! Pay attention to me!!"

That's just my personal opinion. But you cannot control the personalities of your coworkers like you can your friends, and if any of them are like me, they may not find your humor 'dark and edgy' so much as 'super annoying.'
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:16 AM on December 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

It was never an issue when we were 10-15 people, but with 60-70 employees, many of whom I rarely interact with, it seems impossible to make it work.

Yeah, 60-70 might almost as well be The Population At Large, really. Even though that 60-70 might have certain work-related skills, general educational levels, a very general age level, probably some cultural touchstones and/or interests in common, it is a large number that's going to mostly run the gamut of personality types, preferred humor, anxiety levels, sensitivity, personal experiences and backgrounds, etc. Just be pleasant with everyone, but choose your mates that you really feel are on the same wavelength for the goofy stuff.

In my weird job, I see constant communication failures between people, and it's really difficult for them to see where the other person is coming from. One person's gallows humor is another person's Extremely Offensive remark, is another person's Relentlessly Depressing Soul-Sucking commentary, is another person's Hilarious Bon Mot, is another person's Mild Chuckle, is another person's Yet Another Eye-Roll, is another person's Oh Great, Another Thing I Don't "Get," is another person's "This Is An Attack On Me Personally!"

But this tends to happen in larger groups and it's fine once in a while. Most people are not remembering or tallying up every time a joke went flat or a remark seemed odd or even somewhat offputting (as long as it doesn't seem very personal to them). It's when it's persistent that people bridle. Just keep things mostly restrained with the unknown quantities, joke at will with those whom you know understand and appreciate your humor and where you're coming from, and don't get too shook up if there's an occasional slip.

If you want to make a more personal (within limits!) connection, joking into the void is usually not the best. Remembering something significant to that person and asking about it (how did that 6K race go? Did you ever get that [arcane mechanical thing] working? How was the surprise party for your dad? Hey is [partner's name] feeling better after the knee surgery?) is minor but more connection-building, for example. Offering genuine praise about the work someone has done is rarely a turn-off, just keep it simple, honest and don't overdo it. These aren't razzledazzle strategies, but they work for forging closer (though still comfortably light) bonds. With some people you will have maybe exactly One Thing in common (as far as you can tell from a shallow acquaintanceship); it's fine to restrict most of your non-work conversation with them to that common interest. It's something that relieves the monotony or tension of work, is reliably interesting to both of you, and doesn't (usually!) run the risk of causing any disruption or bad feelings.
posted by taz at 9:50 AM on December 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

This is well trod ground here and elsewhere but my general observation is that as you grow through those headcount size stages, the nature of the organization changes until when you find yourself at the size you're at now, culturally speaking it's basically not even the same company as the startup. Startups are different in so many ways. For better and/or for worse the expectations and norms are different. I would echo the sentiment that you just can't do this kind of thing as much in bigger companies. You can still be social, pleasant, and polite, but in a startup they're your coworkers and effectively the closest group of friends you have in the same way as classmates or something might be. You can't treat a bigger company like that.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:56 AM on December 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm completely myself at work, no matter who I'm talking to--from the owner of the company to the GM, and everyone else. And with the exception of the new manager who is a little more subdued, we all maintain our goofiness and our foibles and our loudness and our complaints, and share a lot about what's going on in our lives. One colleague dragged me out of the office one day to help her pick tile down the street for her house remodel. BUT, I work in a tiny office, in NYC, and my experience has shown that people are a lot more tolerant of eccentric types and idiosyncrasies here than in some other places. (I might be totally wrong about that though.)

That said, if I felt like I was being forced to laugh at someone's schtick, that would not sit so well with me. If people are just being vocal and idiosyncratic and honest, I never have a problem with it, and I've never gotten the feeling I am being judged for it either. I do, however, make sure my work is meticulous to make up for any goofiness and potential TMI I might display. So that's my experience. It sounds like a lot of factors are very different in your place, and if you are giving off the vibe that other people need to laugh or feel jocular about your 'performance,' I get why it would be deeply irritating, and unprofessional even in a very permissible environment, which it doesn't sound like you have.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 10:11 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Humor at work is the best and most fruitful use case for "know your audience."

My manager is very dry, very deadpan, and very gallows humor about dumb crap at work that none of us can do anything about but we all have to deal with (I work in a small department at a large, lumbering semi-public institution so there is a lot of this--it's like Brazil at times). Humor of that sort is perfectly acceptable here where it would not be in a department with a super-earnest company-man sort of boss, or a department full of same.

But I think one thing that is rarely a good look is being a "performer" in social situations, outside of very, very close friends. If you want to make a joke about the current situation, and the audience is right for getting the joke, make the joke, but don't put on a whole rehearsed song and dance about it. This style of delivery, more than the actual jokes, is very very very... It's not popular. Just in general. Reign that way in, get a better read on your audience and adjust your humor accordingly, and remember to show a genuine interest in people just for their peopleness and not their ability to laugh at your jokes, and you can still be funny at work without the unwanted blowback. There are other options available to you other than "dour and humorless" vs. "Night at the Improv." Find that middle ground and you'll do better.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:33 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

So, I would say two things about this.

1. I am a lot more pro-friends at work than I think most people are. Perhaps it's just my industry, but everywhere I have worked, I've found at least some people who I end up becoming quite close friends with (one of whom was a bridesmaid in my wedding, if that gives you an idea of how close we became). I've never ended up burned by this, and have stayed in touch with good friends from former workplaces, even years later. I think part of the key to this, though, is that the more personal side of our friendships does not happen in the office. For example, one of my current coworkers knows I'm trying to get pregnant. I would NEVER talk about this in the office, because a) I don't want my boss to know quite yet! and b) it's just too personal of a topic for a general audience. For your situation, you probably have a sense of which people from the original 10-15 people "get" you, and I think it's fine to maintain your current level of humor with them outside of work -- but, have it happen over happy hour or dinner or on weekends -- somewhere that it is not on display for 70 people who may or may not be into it.

2. I am also one of those people who just does not "get" a lot of humor. I am the type of person who cashiers try to joke with and I give them a blank, confused stare because I literally do not understand why they are talking about something funny to do with my sweater and not just taking my credit card. I get better about reading people's humor with people I know well, but even my husband will sometimes try to do jokey bits with me that my brain just cannot compute. This doesn't mean it's never appropriate to be funny in the office, but just be aware that for someone like me, having a coworker who is constantly trying to tell jokes -- to the point of doing standup routines in the lunch room! -- would drive me nuts. I would never be able to tell whether you're trying to make a serious request of me/tell me about a serious complaint/etc. vs. trying to be funny and tell a joke. Especially with people who you don't know well, I would aim more for genuine connection, and then you can add in more of the jokes as you get to know someone better and can tell if they are a weirdo person like me or not. :)
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:37 AM on December 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have this type of dark sarcastic sense of humor and I only use it with my minecraft server friends. It's hard because I think of a lot of jokes and sarcastic things to say that would be so funny, but so unprofessional/misunderstood/unappreciated.

I try to use this material in my writing. Writing is a great outlet for this sort of situational humor.
posted by Melsky at 10:42 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Incidentally, as someone dealing with some big morale issues in a nonprofit I volunteer for, your gallows humor actually can and possibly is bringing morale down. Stop doing that.
This. I am someone who instinctively uses humour as a coping mechanism, but I've realised that it's not helpful for either me or those around me at work - especially if there's someone else around who does shares that sensibility, because then we feed off each other and it's a downwards spiral from there.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 10:45 AM on December 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

Negative humor means drawing attention to problems and burdens. It's very important not to "pretend" that things are great when they're terrible, but an individual person, trying to get his job done, may need to just try to relax and not feel angry all the time, and reminding him of these problems makes that a lot more difficult.

At any point in time, there are lots of unpleasant things going on in our lives. There are also lots of good things that often go unappreciated: we're relatively safe, dry, warm, well-fed, have people to talk to, have fun movies to see, the Internet, intellectually engaging activities available incredibly easy, etc.

There is a biological drive to focus on the negative things. It helps us preserve our own lives when, for example, staying in a cold or foodless place would lead to death. It prejudices us to identify and deal with threats immediately, since that's the way it had to be done at the beginning of human time. It's what helped some of our ancestors survive. This drive isn't particularly helpful, though, in a modern workplace, when the actual threats are best dealt with in a calm and reasoned way that generally takes more time and reflection than solutions like "kill the beast" or "leave". You may feel like you want to kill the beast, or you yearn to leave a stressful situation, but you know you shouldn't.

The stifling of those impulses may make you feel even worse.

So, we have to develop a particular kind of mental discipline to overcome this drive to focus on negative things. We need to overcome those impulses.

The most successful people find ways to avoid having those impulses. Many of them do that by choosing to focus often on how they're solving problems, or on what's going right in their lives -- even in their workplaces -- which, admittedly, is sometimes not very much. They "block out" the things that make them very angry.

This is very much not to say that one should never think about such problems; it's important not to lose sight of problems that need fixing.

The point I'm making is this: it's hard to maintain that focus. It's hard not to focus on the terrible things in one's life. For some people, it's impossible; maybe the problems are too great, or maybe they just never learned to "see" the world through that particular filter. However, they still work at it.

I write as someone who has struggled with this a lot. I was raised by fairly negative parents, that's the language I learned as a child, and I tend to see problems before other people do. I've given this a lot of thought.

Negative humor means drawing attention to problems and burdens. It's very important not to "pretend" that things are great when they're terrible, but an individual person, trying to get his job done, may need to just try to relax and not feel angry all the time, and reminding him of these problems makes that a lot more difficult.
posted by amtho at 10:59 AM on December 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

If your joking is getting in the way of the team doing work, then stop it. Right now. We had a jokester at our office and it was kind of fun for a while hearing the zingers and one-liners during meetings, but it got to the point that we couldn't finish anything because Mr. Jokester kept derailing the conversation.

If you notice people are giving you a tight-lipped smile and then moving the conversation in a new direction, that's your signal that you are being annoying rather than funny.
posted by CathyG at 11:24 AM on December 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

One thing to be aware of re: mock anger - some people can find intense expressions of anger unsettling, upsetting etc - even mock expressions. This can be especially the case in the workplace. If someone has trouble parsing your sincerity, you can come across as aggressive and even somewhat menacing.

Regarding devils advocate, just don't, it's super annoying. Be constructive, and positive and straightforward. People need and value that in the workplace far more than sarcasm or performance. People love it and will respond in kind.

Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 1:52 PM on December 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm very sarcastic, and often pretty negative. Both can irritate others, even good friends and loved ones. People can misinterpret the sarcasm, and they can grow weary of the negativity. If the people who have chosen me as a friend or partner have trouble with this part of my personality, I know that people who haven't chosen to spend lots of time with me are likely to have even more trouble with it. So I try to tone it down at work. I find it also helps to act more more positive at work - it often puts me in a better mood. That might help you too.

I also wonder if you might enjoy improv or standup classes. While you probably won't launch a comedy career, you may well make some friends who appreciate your sense of humor. It could also help you to read a room better.
posted by Cranialtorque at 2:09 PM on December 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

I disagree with the people who say you shouldn't have friends at work - there are actually studies showing that people who socialize with coworkers get more promotions, etc. And having work friends can be great - helps to pass the day more pleasantly, can help you get things done.

But. There's a reason we call them "work friends" and not just "friends." It's a different thing, and you gotta have a work persona. Not be a whole different person, but you know, when you're on the clock, you need to be thinking about how your behavior contributes or detracts from what your company is trying to accomplish. I get that you are trying to loosen people up, but it's not succeeding, so you either need to give up on that goal or try to go about it in a different way (and as others have said, I'm not sure if that's a good goal in and of itself - I like a casual workplace but people have different work styles and you need to respect that).

I also suspect that you may actually see humor as a way of getting people to find you amusing and clever. I know I used to, and unless you are insanely charismatic, this is destined to be off-putting to people as you and they get older. I think the best kind of humor in situations where you don't know people as well is a gentler kind of humor where the point is to create a bond through mutual banter. But if that doesn't come naturally to you, I would chill on the joke-making for a while.

I think the radish routine is a good example of this and it's gotta go. I actually enjoy sarcastic humor a lot but I find it SUPER alienating to be subjected to a layman's "standup routine." It is never as funny as they think it is, and it's the epitome of that kind of humor that's more about "admire how clever I am" than it is about "let's all have a good time together." It's exhausting. Also, I don't know your gender, but I am going to guess you are a man, because as a woman, I have been subjected to this SO MUCH by men I don't know well (first dates, coworkers) and it gets old really fast.
posted by lunasol at 3:50 PM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

If humanly possible I would never submit to being an audience for a rant at work, whether sincere or comedic or "comedic."

That's neither social nor professional; I'd feel uncomfortable or annoyed being someone's unwitting audience.

As a manager of a large group, I'm pleased to report that people with similar sensibilities tend to find each other and their humor is expressed off the cuff amongst themselves, in conversations, not routines in front of the whole group. I'd say seek your peers and stick to being professional and friendly in the large group, especially when you are around supervisors or people who might have such influence.
posted by kapers at 4:13 PM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

So, I have a cautionary tale for you about how a very dark sense of humour can backfire on you:

I once had a coworker who was male, white, 50 or 60 something. He was working two jobs and he was pretty stressed and exhausted.

The scrolling screen saver on his computer - in big letters which anyone who walked past his desk could see - was "Arbeit macht frei" - a German phrase meaning "work sets you free". The slogan is known for appearing on the entrance of Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

I thought he was a Nazi sympathiser!

Eventually I found out it was meant to be a joke about our workplaces terrible working conditions...

(I still think comparing our terrible workplace to a concentration camp was tasteless and would have been incredibly hurtful for anyone Jewish or Romani.)
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 7:35 PM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think that a lot of dark humor and gallows humor relies on common experience and a basic level of trust. It's why some jokes are great when they're 'in', and terrible in mixed company. Sockpuppets 'R' Us' example was great. You have to really trust that no one in the group is a white supremacist before you can enjoy a holocaust joke. In a big setting, there just isn't that level of knowledge of one another or trust.

On top of that, I think what makes even less 'edgier' humor tricky in an office is that people will not necessarily feel free to tell you to knock it off if/when you're crossing lines/wasting time/just not being funny. People might feel that they rank below you in the pecking order (whether because of actual rank or issues of privilege), or might just be wary about how power will shake up later, and feel obliged to laugh. That *sucks* and is kind of the opposite of funny.

I think you should work on developing parts of yourself that maybe are a bit shy, maybe underused now -- earnest and kind and receptive aspects of you -- and see if you can't find a way to make that persona also feel like yourself. I mean, is really truly the case that you only have one true and constant outward manifestation of your true self? The other option I see is looking for a job where you can have the kind of small close-knit and/or homogeneous community of peers where you can continue with your comfortable persona.

Whether practicing developing yourself or finding a better job environment/fit will be easier for you probably depends on how in-demand you and your field are, what the jobs there are like, and your inner resources. In the end though, I think that working through this where you are , if in other ways it's a good job, could serve you very well in the future.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:29 PM on December 19, 2016

Keep your mouth shut, but your eyes and ears open. Remember that no matter how friendly people at work might be, they're your acquaintances and not your friends.
posted by bentpyramid at 7:24 AM on December 20, 2016

Another consideration is that if people think you are always doing a schtick, they may trust you less. It has sort of the opposite effect of showing yourself in a genuine manner.
posted by BibiRose at 8:22 AM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone. This confirms a lot of my terrible suspicions, as much as I don't want to hear it.

I think that what kapers said above is a good explanation of what happened. When I started here, we had 10-15 people with similar cultural backgrounds and thus similar basis for things like humor, movie references, etc. We all frequently went out to dinner or the bar after work. A lot of people were friends from previous workplaces, too. So it had a bit of a "back to college" feel to it. This might be hard to understand if you have never worked in a startup, but it really wasn't a toxic workplace. Gradually as things have changed that has gone away and I'm realizing that now.
posted by deathpanels at 7:41 PM on December 20, 2016

Don't joke by e-mail or chat system. That's good advice for almost everybody, but especially for someone who has a sense of humor even slightly askew of the norm, whose jokes by e-mail or chat will very quickly brand himself a creep, weirdo, jerk or dork.
posted by MattD at 9:27 PM on December 20, 2016

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