Maybe you should stop giggling at work: ‘Laughter padding’ is undermining your input and could be making your colleagues uncomfortable

A man in a suit laughs to a colleague
Do you find yourself giggling while making a request? It's undermining your authority
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We’ve all been there. An awkward moment by the water cooler, a silence at the coffee machine, or requesting a meeting with a colleague you’ve never met before. In a bid to seem more at ease, you emit a little laugh at the start or end of an utterance.

Sometimes it’s conscious –often not– but either way ‘laughter padding’ does a great deal to undermine your authority.

Experts group the habit with “unspoken apology” behaviors. These also include beginning a request with: “I’m sorry”, or “I just”, explained Jamie Chapman, head coach at London Speech Workshop.

Chapman added that laughter is a double-edged sword, either massively working to the advantage of an individual to build rapport or signaling nervousness or uncertainty.

“Just because someone is a CEO doesn’t mean they won’t use laughter padding to try and build a rapport with members of their team. They may want to signal that they’re funny or pleasant. Perhaps they themselves feel awkward and releasing that laughter is a way to ease the tension,” he added.


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Laughter translates differently around the world

If you work for an international company, you’ve got even more to think about.

Award-winning leadership coach, Brenda Bence, explained that laughter has different connotations and motivations depending on culture.

As such, the reason for laughter padding and your reaction to it can have massively varying impacts depending on where you are.

She said: “I’d moved to a new country and we were having a very important conversation about a very serious issue and half the team kept giggling. Thank goodness I didn’t respond but there was a trigger inside of me of: ‘What’s going on here?’ In some countries laughter can signal embarrassment. In this case it meant they didn’t know what to say or do so they were laughing, which just meant they were uncomfortable. What I found out about laughter is that in any business arrangement you have to watch how you interpret other people’s laughter.”

She added if you’re someone who knows they laughter pad, they should split down their reaction into: before, during and after.

Before is the awareness of what’s happened and recognizing it could be misinterpreted.

During is in the moment acknowledging it, maybe even saying: ‘In my culture laughter means x, y and z’.

Bence added: “It’s much better to be authentic about it than just put it under the rug. And then afterward you can always go back and say: ‘I hope that wasn’t misinterpreted there was no malintent. It’s something I’m working on’.”

If you’re sat in a meeting try not to react in the moment, Bence continued.

“In my particular situation, I really did feel frustrated and thankfully I had the wherewithal to think there must be a lens that they’re seeing it through that I’m not. And it’s OK to go back later and say: ‘Hey I noticed you were laughing, help me understand that. I want to make sure we’re communicating effectively.”

If you’re the boss, lead the laughter

If you’re a leader then it’s on you to break the ice –if it feels natural– the experts added. One of Bence’s clients was looking to make the leap from CFO to CEO and was instructed to simply smile for a month because cracking jokes wasn’t his style.

The outcome? “Within 30 days people were approaching him about projects, they came to him about things and he was amazed.” she said.

“Don’t underestimate those simple things can make a big difference. How we act on the outside starts with how we are on the inside. It all starts with your thoughts and your beliefs but how you feel directs your behavior.”

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