What is it about?

Leaders often find themselves in a tough spot when they have to reject critical questions in front of their followers. To handle this situation, some leaders use laughter as a way to ease the tension and avoid coming across as aggressive or confrontational. However, it turns out that this strategy can backfire. When leaders laugh, it might actually make them seem less friendly and approachable to the people watching. In a recent study, researchers looked at how laughter affects followers’ perception of a leader’s warmth and effectiveness. They found that whether the leader’s laughter is shared with the questioner matters a lot. If the laughter is shared, it enhances the leader’s warmth and effectiveness. But if the laughter is not shared, it undermines the leader’s apparent warmth. So, leaders need to be mindful of when and how they use laughter in their interactions. This research has implications for understanding how emotions are expressed in leadership situations and how leaders are perceived by their followers.

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I hope this article helps leaders understand that its not just your verbal or emotional response to a critical question that makes a difference to how your followers see you, but also how the questioner responds.

David Cheng
Australian National University

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This page is a summary of: Leaders laughing in the line of fire: An emotional aperture perspective on leader laughter in response to critical questions., Journal of Applied Psychology, January 2024, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/apl0001178.
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