Strategic uses of humor in the workplace: A comparative study between Thais and Americans

Thitirat Phukanchana


Most research addressing humor in the workplace and its functions has occurred largely in Western cultures, particularly in the United States. Studies using only Westerners as research samples may impede developing theories of humor, especially in cross-cultural contexts. To date, the majority of cross-cultural studies of humor have focused on various settings other than the workplace. Hence, it is useful to study workplace humor across cultures. The purpose of this study is to investigate strategic uses of humor in Thai and U.S. organizations. Previous research on Thai and American communication behaviors indicated that Thai and American cultural values influenced the ways Thais and Americans communicate with others. It is compelling to speculate that Thai and American organizational members are likely to use humor differently in their communication at work. Data were collected from faculty and staff at Ramkhamhaeng University in Thailand and at the University of Southern Mississippi in the United States. Both Thai and American participants responded to questionnaires consisting of open-ended and dosed-ended questions. The findings derived from this study indicated that Thai and American cultural values influenced the ways in which Thai and American organization members used humor as strategic communication to achieve their individuals' and organizations' goals. When comparing the way in which the Americans and the Thais used humor with their superiors and coworkers, Thai cultural values of respect for authority and American values of individuality and equality appeared as key differences. Both Thais and Americans perceived humor as a strategy to manage difficult situations, express negative feelings to others, and to create a positive working environment. This study suggested that such functions of humor may be ubiquitous across Thai and U.S. American academic organizations.