Banter is an inherently British thing, it’s everywhere we look, from in school between friends, to mates in the pub. When you look at it from the outside, it’s quite a strange thing to witness, friends essentially insulting each other, in another world it would be considered bullying, but it’s not. “It’s banter, it’s just a joke, don’t give if you can’t take!”However, does banter belong in the workplace? I mean you spend more time with your colleagues than you spend with your friends and quite often more time than you spend with your family, so it doesn’t take long for people to get comfortable around their co-workers. Does this mean though, that banter, that cross between teasing and full blown insulting, belongs at work? Is it just not professional enough or do you just not know these people on a personal level?
The first thing to do is to decide whether it suits the place you work? During surgery is probably not a good place to remind your colleague about how clumsy they are… time and place people. Sales environments are known for being full of banter, as the back and forth is intended to motivate each other not put down, and that’s the line you must remember, banter should come from affection not jealousy or malice.
Everyone’s seen the Office, the UK Office, come on I like Steve Carell as much as the next guy, but he’s not a scratch on Ricky Gervais’ perfect portrayal of the person every office has, that guy so desperate to be involved in the office banter, at whatever cost to his dignity and authority. Which is my next point, that you can have banter and be professional, if a boss is making a fool of themselves just to join in the fun, then that’s no good, and whilst it’s fun to work somewhere like that for a week or so, people tend to crave a focussed workplace.So what guidelines should you follow for banter? I’m not trying to give you a Crib sheet to use whilst you’re all having a laugh over coffee…. you’ll definitely get some funny looks and a fair bit of grief if you carry around the “dummies guide to office banter.”
I’ll start with the subject matter, keep it authentic, and make sure it’s who are you, don’t be fake with it, or force it, and above all else, remember it should be innocent fun, not a torrent of abuse. The topics to stay clear of in general, there are always exceptions based on how well you really know someone, but on the whole, religion, race, sex and gender are best to be avoided. This is because HR tend not to be supportive of the, “It was just Banter,” answer.
Next is location, do it in a group, open, make it clear you’re not talking behind peoples back, make the comment direct, it’s all in fun so there’s no need to be secretive. And if you need to explain that it’s just a joke, then it isn’t a joke. Remember if just one person takes offence, especially the receiver of your banter, then you’ve moved from banter and onto bullying.
Taking all of this into account, I’m not trying to discourage you from office banter, quite the opposite, do it properly and it creates an amazing work space. As I said at the beginning, you spend so much time with these people, you might even have drinks or go to the gym with them, some people will become your friends, and with friendship comes banter, but just make sure you know the line.
Another positive to banter, is what it can do to creativity and productivity, remarks about your performance in a fun, open environment, are sure to spur you on so that you can turn around and say you were just giving everyone a head start. And having a gentle mocking of your pitch in a meeting, can help fuel your brain to find that bit of creative spark to come back and wow your team.
So next time someone laughs at your suit, there’s a good chance they think you’re friends, just roll with it and enjoy the team spirit and if it’s too much, just straight up tell them. It’s healthy, and releases stress better than most things, so embrace the banter and love your workplace.