Topic: Organizational Entry and Humorous Communication

Author(s), Title and Publication

Heiss, S. N., & Carmack, H. J. (2012). Knock, knock, who’s there?: Making sense of organizational entrance through humor. Management Communication Quarterly, 26(1), 106-132.


This study explored how veterans and newcomers use humor during organizational entry. The authors collected data from the Vocational Counseling Center (VCC) at a large Midwestern university with 58 hours of observation of daily activities and weekly staff meetings, and interviews with eight employees about their personal entry experiences, interactions with newcomers, the role of humor in the office, and interpretations of the authors’ observations involving humor and organizational entry.

Results showed that newcomers used humor to solicit information and learn job expectations, while veterans used humor to teach newcomers lessons and avoid hurting the newcomers’ feelings and esteem when things went wrong. It was also found that though humor is a more acceptable way for veterans to express disappointments and/or give instruction, it might be difficult for the newcomers to interpret the messages, which may increase their uncertainty. In the VCC, humor was also used to help newcomers understand organizational culture, such as unspoken rules (e.g., dress code, being on time to meetings, not revealing true emotions to clients etc.). Additionally, VCC employees used humor to build relationships. For example, sometimes veterans used humor to distance a newcomer who does not have a shared history with them, and both newcomers and veterans view humor as a skill to gain recognition from others and get accepted by the group.

Implications for Practice

Humor is not only a communication tool, but also a skill. It would be beneficial for newcomers to learn communicative humor rules when they join an organization, know how to interpret others’ humor and how to use humor appropriately. But instead of using humor, an organization may want to provide newcomers with more formal statements of job expectations to reduce their uncertainty.

Location of Article

The article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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