Styles of Humor and Its Effect in Communication

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Whenever we hear society telling us about addiction it is usually relating to tragedy. Then we often talk about the pain, drama, and heartbreak that follows. Of course, addiction is all of those things but for those in recovery it’s can also be something that is filled with humor and joy.

Learning to laugh, again, for any of us can take time. The reason for this is because we may need to work through other emotions. I find this to be the case for many of my clients especially, addicts who are in recovery from substance abuse. Since this is the case I try making an effort to include humor in their day so they realize that they are laughing more, can have a more positive outlook, and feel better in general.


Group therapy and addiction treatment are natural allies that benefit one another. Groups provide members with positive peer support and the pressure to abstain from abusing substances. They also have opportunities for members to confront others who deny their problems to instill them with a sense of hope.

As a Sexual Assault Advocate, I am aware of how trauma and substance abuse go hand-in-hand. The organization I work for does, too. Throughout the week, advocates spend time leading support groups and teaching classes. I am currently leading a support group three times a week known as “Seeking Safety”. Seeking Safety is a group about the correlation between substance abuse and trauma. Its content focuses on helping survivors attain safety in their relationships, thinking, behavior, and emotions.

I decided to observe one of those three groups this past week for 50 minutes. Within those 50 minutes, I noticed that all styles of humor were being used among the group members. Affiliative was used four times, aggressive two times, self-enhancing three times, and self-defeating three times.

Styles of Humor and Their Impacts

Addiction recovery is a serious matter. Yet, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for humor. Taking the time to laugh can support recovery. During treatment, clients spend a lot of time discussing their situation, how it has affected those around them, and in what ways it has impacted their lives. Things that are pretty heavy to not only talk about but think about. So if someone who is in addiction recovery is laughing, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t taking their situation seriously; it means they are healing.


Affiliative humor is used to enhance one’s relationship with others in a positive way (Reggio, 2015). This can involve telling jokes. For example, a group member related a concept we were talking about to a casino. A lot of people know what casinos are so this made us laugh. Also, it create a sense of fellowship among us.


Aggressive humor includes sarcasm, put-downs, teasing, criticism, and ridicule towards individuals (Reggio, 2015). For example, a couple of group members were uncomfortable talking about their former spouses. They would joke about them in belittling ways and laugh to cover up the discomfort of their former unhealthy relationships.


Self-enhancing humor is about being able to laugh at yourself, your circumstances, and the happening of everyday life (Reggio, 2015). For example, the group sent a portion of their time talking about things their kids have said to them. Those things were negative in regards to their weight or how they dress. Instead of being mean towards their kids or putting themselves down they would point out how they were a target of their kids’ joke. Also, they would look on the bright side of their kids’ joke by saying how what they said means they are in recovery instead of abusing substances.


When someone puts themselves down it is known as self-defeating humor (Reggio, 2015). For example, one group member spent time talking about how she doesn’t understand what other group members were talking about because she abused a different substance then they did. She couldn’t relate to their struggles so she joked about herself and made herself the butt of her own joke.

Leadership and humor

Humor can create a positive atmosphere that helps people bond. It can also fall flat and hurt people’s’ feelings. For leaders who have expectations about their goals and rewards can use humor to increases their overall effectiveness. However, there are times when they may use humor and it can come as a showing off, putting people down, or distracting people. Thus, being less effective.


Since affiliative humor can be positive and create relationships, leaders can use it to their advantage. For example, shared laughter among people can cause a sense of fellowship and create happiness (Reggio, 2015). Something that can help leaders avoid conflict, gain a following, and solve problems.

Leaders can also use self-enhancing humor to their advantage because this style focuses on a humorous outlook on life (Reggio, 2015). It can show people that a leader can laugh even in the face of stress or adversity. Also, it may allow a leader to avoid negative emotions.


Aggressive humor causes disrespect, embarrassment, and ridicule of groups and individuals. It can also be used to manipulate others (Reggio, 2015). If a leader were to use this style of humor people may see them as hostile and angry. Thus, negatively impacting their view of how agreeable and conscientious the leader is.

Leaders who are able to laugh at themselves but not others are using self-defeating humor. It seems like a good thing to be able to laugh at yourself and not other but it isn’t. The reason for this is because it can be used to avoid attacks (Reggio, 2015). As a leader, people may view this type of humor being used as if they are in denial, hiding something, or avoiding working with others.

Framing and Humor

When interacting with another person, we present a particular “face” (Goffman, 1967). That face – negative or positive – can depend on the situation and the relationship (Goffman, 1967). The reason why it is so important that we “maintain” face.

The effort made to maintain face is known as “face work”(Goffman, 1967). Face work entails interactional behavior that is scripted and conventional (Goffman, 1967). Yet, someone’s behavior can still fail. When it does fail, there can be “threats” to their face (Goffman, 1967). These threats can cause a person to use strategies to manage those threats. One of those strategies is humor.

It is important that we are aware of not only our face but the faces of others. The reason for this is because maintaining our face to others can be helpful when we try to “frame” something. Since a frame is a structured way of thinking, framing is the act of communicating that concept (Fairhust, 2011). These things sound easier said than done. However, framing can be difficult to do. Thinking outside the box of our original frame can help us change the story we are trying to tell to others, especially, when we become aware of their face(s). One way of doing this is through humor.


Humor is a skill needed to communicate well with others. The challenge is to become aware of how to add humor and when to avoid it during interactions. All which takes being aware of the four styles of humor, how each style can be positive and/or negative, knowing what faces we present to the world, and being able to use the styles of humor with our framing.

Cite this paper

Styles of Humor and Its Effect in Communication. (2021, Jun 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/styles-of-humor-and-its-effect-in-communication/

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