Banter exists in any office, anywhere in the world. Once colleagues become friends there will invariably be humorous comments and observations and talk of social activities that have happened or are planned. What is acceptable within these private conversations may not however be right for the office environment. Conversely, banter can be a tool to inspire creativity and ideas for use within the business. Discussing outlandish ways in which to deal with an issue or challenge may lead to a plausible solution, and you have had fun in the process!
What is ‘Banter’
ban·ter – The playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks
From Psychology Today – “Men generally enjoy the process more than women. That’s motivation for women to get over it quickly. Men often turn business into a game, and they want to spar with their opponents. This isn’t an emotional crisis or personal attack; just a little fun. It’s sport.”
From Philosophy And Humanities – “Banter is teasing in a playful way, aiming at rapport versus aggression. It features aggressivity, insincerity and incongruity (mismatch) in communication. Banter has functions of recreation, reinforcement in-group solidarity, facilitating human relationships and “lubricating” communication.”
As you can see from the above two examples, banter can be used as a business tool, as a way to determine (in the individual’s mind at least) dominance, and is treated as a sport by some. It is also a positive social behavior to progress and solidify relationships.
Banter from the ‘Dark Side’
Discussion topics and language depend largely on the situation and location of those involved. A discussion that you might have on a Friday night at the pub ‘should’ be very different to that which you would have on a Monday morning in a meeting at the office. Sometimes, when we become very familiar with those that we work with, maybe due to long service or socialising regularly, we forget that we are in a professional environment and that there are those present that are not so familiar with the ways in which our ‘banter’ works.
Language that may be perfectly acceptable within a social group may be perceived as unprofessional or even offensive to others in the office. In a previous article I wrote about how ‘Social Media Never Forgets‘.
Although not written down and permanently recorded as with social media, banter within the office is likely to be heard by those that are trying to get on with their work and, equally, are not interested. Having a bit of forethought and consideration regarding your surroundings may just save you an awkward conversation or worse.
Inspired by banter
On the ‘flip side’, banter can also prove a very useful tool when thinking creatively about an issue or challenge that you may face as a department or company. Not having the restrictions of social etiquette (within reason) often means that challenges can be discussed honestly and openly with your colleague. Would you rather try and solve a problem with friends or with people that you have never spoken to in a social capacity?
Knowing that the worst that can happen is that your idea may be met with an amusing retort from a friend, as opposed to a confused and disappointed look from an unfamiliar colleague, makes it a lot easier to share your ideas, no matter how absurd they may sound at first.
Many businesses invest vast sums of money to encourage social interaction within the workforce. One of the benefits of this is that colleagues become friends, are able to approach other employees more openly and have honest conversations. This is often in the form of, or involves, banter, reinforcing the business conversation with a social level.
Good or bad, office banter will always exist within an environment where people interact on a daily basis. Ensuring that banter remains good humoured, and does not evolve into something more sinister, is the responsibility of all employees. Encouraging constructive and creative conversations, and allowing employees to speak freely and express their opinions, without fear of embarrassment, improves engagement and collaboration within the business.