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Laughter: More Than Just a Humorous Response, A Vital Communication Tool

I once walked into a room full of strangers to give a talk on nonverbal communication. I didn't know anybody, but I could identify the boss immediately. Surprised, he asked me how I knew he was the boss. I had no prior knowledge or information, but I could read the room's unspoken language.

Understanding the hierarchy in a room can be determined in several ways. For instance, you can look at people's eyes. A true leader tends to engage with everyone, but the audience's gaze often settles on select individuals:

• Emotionally significant

• Those who are currently speaking – as long as they aren't disliked

• And the ‘boss’ who will usually get the lion's share of the visual attention

Another indicator is the direction of people's feet. People naturally point their feet towards those they hold in high regard, respect, or affection. Conversely, feet angled away can signal dislike, discomfort, or a desire to leave.

Now, let's delve into the heart of today's topic: laughter in the workplace. Laughter isn't just a response to humor; it's a sophisticated tool for communication and bonding. When people laugh, observe where they look. They often seek validation from their closest ally or, more importantly, the boss. This ensures that their laughter aligns with the group's dynamics and hierarchy.

This is how I identified the person most likely in charge when I entered the room. Someone had just said something funny, and as the group began laughing, most looked to one person for validation that it was okay to laugh.

The witness's laughter increased when the individuals observed the leader laughing and throwing his head back slightly, revealing his throat. This signal showed that the boss had a sense of humor and revealed clues to how much he trusted the team. Exposing one's throat in a group environment – particularly at work – usually only occurs when trust or arrogance is high. The group's response to his body language told me it was the former, not the latter.

This group had the expected level of professional hierarchical layering built on mutual respect and trust.

Laughter in the workplace goes beyond just sharing a joke. It's a nuanced form of communication, integral for team cohesion and organizational dynamics. As we navigate the complexities of nonverbal cues, remember that the sound of laughter is not just about humor; it's about connection, hierarchy, and the unspoken bonds that hold a team together.

Introspection and self-awareness challenge:

When you're in a group environment, in or out of work, note whom you look to first when something makes you laugh. You might be surprised at where your eyes land!


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