Elucidating the bonds of workplace humor: A relational process model

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123 Scopus citations


A number of studies have demonstrated that humor can impact both horizontal and vertical relationships in organizations, but little is known about the interpersonal processes underlying this link. By integrating theory and research from the fields of philosophy, social psychology, communications, and leadership, it is possible to illuminate a combination of processes which, considered collectively, explain humor's ability to create, maintain, impede, or destroy relationships at work. I first review the classical theories of humor, which explain what motivates individuals to express humor and what determines humor enjoyment. However, since these frameworks focus on humor at the individual-level of analysis, they cannot speak to the social processes involved in a humor exchange. Research in the fields of social psychology, communications, and leadership provides insight regarding the remaining social mechanisms. In sum, it appears that interpersonal humor operates through four related but distinct processes: affect-reinforcement, similarity-attraction, self-disclosure, and hierarchical salience. These social processes are proposed to function in addition to (not in lieu of) the individual-level mechanisms the classical humor theories describe. The discussion, thus, culminates in a relational process model of humor, contributing a more fine-grained understanding of interpersonal humor to the organizational literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1087-1115
Number of pages29
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2008


  • Affect-reinforcement
  • Communications
  • Humor
  • Self-disclosure
  • Similarity-attraction
  • Workplace relations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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