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  • Writer's pictureCentriq PR

Those in leadership positions should know difference between humour and insult

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Article by Jacqueline Arnold @ TwentyTwo13 (4 July 2023)

The 2022 Academy Awards will be remembered for Will Smith slapping Chris Rock across the face for a joke. Well, at least Rock thought he was being funny, and even though Smith was chuckling at first, Mrs Smith didn’t appear impressed (or laughing), and the rest, as they say, is history.

One of the golden rules in PR is never to try to be funny or glib when giving a speech or responding to questions during a media conference. We cannot emphasise this enough. Humour is subjective and often pokes fun at others.

A comment seen by one as innocent or funny, can be insulting, hurtful or cruel to another. For example, making fun of persons with disabilities is in extremely poor taste, and no one in their right mind tolerates that. Sexist, ageist, homophobic remarks and fat-shaming are also unacceptable.

In days of old, some thought sexist jokes were funny and entertaining. Not so these days.

In recent times, women being more highly educated than men – a 2020 report by the Department of Statistics Malaysia states that there were more (62 per cent) female students than males among the undergraduate population in Malaysia’s public higher institutions of learning – has led to women having a much lower tolerance for being the butt of sexist, insensitive and cruel jokes.

Men need to wake up and come to terms with this. Over the last few years, high-profile international businessmen have come under fire for unbecoming remarks and behaviour; there’s a term for it now – sexual harassment – and it’s against the law.

A LinkedIn contact recently posted that nasty comments have started popping up on this business and employment-focused social media platform.

A few weeks ago, a young man left an ageist remark on one of my posts. I refused to dignify it with a response, choosing instead to ignore his comment. Anyway, he’s probably still living with his parents.

But I digress. Let’s get back to inappropriate and insensitive remarks. That’s what they are, you know – inappropriate and rude – they are not jokes, and they are certainly not funny.

Women are tired of being objectified and of being disrespected. Women will no longer tolerate remarks that demean us and insult our intelligence and dignity. Those in leadership positions should know this and should set good examples.

In business language, we use terms like politically incorrect, inappropriate, and insensitive. But in reality, the words and behaviour are cruel, rude, and disrespectful.

So, the next time you think you’re being funny, think about the emotions of the person you’re making fun of – hurt, sadness, and feeling insulted. Is that the way you would want someone to speak to your mother, sister, or daughter?

My advice to clients is always to ask three questions before they speak, write or post on social media – is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?

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