How do you make a rat laugh? Answer: by tickling them!  Now this might seem an odd thing to do but it is proven; rats like many animals laugh. They laugh not only when they are tickled by humans, they also laugh when they tickle each other (yes rats actually do this), but they even laugh when they socializing.  This amazing fact, that I only discovered yesterday, got me thinking about what laughter is all about and what is its significance from a leadership point of view?

Most people think that they only laugh when they hear something funny but this is not case.  It seems that we laugh in ‘normal’ conversations with people we respect and admire. Apparently we do this as a way of showing appreciation and empathy.

When I was a young marketing executive in the late seventies, the salesmen were always telling jokes.  They saw humour as an important part of business life. Telling a joke created a sense of intimacy between them and their customers. They would often practice their new jokes on their colleagues; the successful ones were then transferred to their regular customers. By the mid-eighties the new wave of political correctness and an increased sense of seriousness and urgency to make money combined to begin the ending of jokes as an important instrument of the salesman’s tool bag.   

However, laughter is an evolutionary must. After screaming the house down, it is the first communication a baby develops to ensure it remains cute to its carers. Tickling, and the laughter it induces, forms an essential role in emotional bonding.  In many ways, the internet today provides the laughs the travelling salesmen once distributed.   

In business and in our private lives, laughter is an important indicator. Surprisingly, not from jokes as such but in our regular conversations. Typically it is an indication that barriers are being replaced by a sense of trust and affection. Laughter therefore can be seen as motivational because it lifts up our companions and establishes them as a part of a closer relationship. The successful business leader, is able to induce laughter and to switch it off as the situation requires.

To conclude, consider this: If you believe that every human is only seven meters away from a rat, then listen very carefully in future.  Maybe, just maybe, the very faint high pitch whistling you hear in your ears when there is no one around, is not a mild form of tinnitus but the sound of rats laughing? Perhaps the rats are laughing at the joke that only seven meters away there is a human but they are so big and stupid that they cannot see us!

Have a good week,


PS: Thanks to the BBC Radio 4’s ‘The infinite monkey cage’ science program.