One of the best ways to lighten the mood in a business setting is to offer up a bit of self-deprecating humor – a laughing nod to your own shortcomings to put everyone on ease about their own. Unfortunately for women, studies show that only men with secure upper-level status are able to successfully pull of personal jabs aimed at themselves.
Does weakness betrays strength?
According to researchers at the University of New Mexico, making fun of yourself is a kind of “costly signaling” – a display of weakness in order to signify your overall strength. So for a high-status man in the office or on a date, flashing a soft spot or two functions as an endearing sign of camaraderie. Similarly, teachers and professors who offer self-effacing yarns find greater favor with students than those who maintain a façade of complete authority.
Or belies it?
Yet the results change for others whose gender, salary or age make their status more questionable. A study published in the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology found that lower status men were less attractive to women when they made fun of themselves in conversation.
Things get even worse for women in the office, according to findings by Ashton University. Based on their research, 70 percent of female senior professionals who poke fun at themselves end up being seen in a negative light by their coworkers.
It seems that instead of appearing humble, women, historically excluded from leadership roles, accidentally call their authority into question with self-effacing remarks. Similarly, labeled as the “fairer sex,” women are more likely to be misinterpreted by audiences who read their personal jests as evidence of true self-doubt, and thus feel obliged to reassure them.
So does this mean you need to permanently change the way you joke? Absolutely not. Your sense of humor is part of what makes you unique, however, it’s also important to note how you’re perceived. If your boss, coworkers or family seem uncomfortable amongst jokes made at your own expense, dial back the self-effacement for their sake. Once they stop worrying about your actual confidence level, they’ll be able to see the funny side of all your humble quirks and quips.