Self-Deprecating Humor: Use It or Lose It?

Rachel Beohm
4 min readAug 31, 2022

Sometimes self-deprecating humor can be helpful in establishing connections… most of the time, it backfires. Here’s how to tell what’s best.

I generally advise against using self-deprecating humor. Most of the time, it does not convey confidence and credibility. But as is the case with virtually all communication advice, context and motivation can change everything.

I know — I wish there was a formula. Rules that being with “always” and “never” sure make life easier. But while rigidly following rules may lead to excellence in some arenas (rocket science, maybe?), dealing with other human beings requires way more nuance. Excellence in communication means staying awake and aware to what’s going on right now and choosing the most effective approach in the moment.

So, with that in mind, here are some guidelines (not rules!) for assessing whether or not self-deprecating humor will help or hurt you and the impression you’re hoping to make.

Lose It

Avoid self-deprecating humor when it stems from an actual lack of confidence. These attempts at humor are often not even funny. They make people feel awkward or obliged to argue with your unnecessarily low assessment of yourself. When delivered lightheartedly, you may get a few laughs; however, this type of humor often points to low self-esteem, a negative view of life, or a need to keep others at a distance.

You might put yourself down for any number of reasons, for example:

  • You’re lowering the bar so others don’t have high expectations of you. “I’ll probably screw up like I always do. Ha!”
  • You’re fishing for a compliment. “I’m so terrible at this, lol.”
  • You’re putting up barriers for connection in order to protect yourself. “My life’s purpose is to be a cautionary tale for others.”

In all instances, this type of humor comes from a place of fear and scarcity. It pushes people away and does not convey confidence. In fact, research shows it can harm your professional growth and negatively impact your mental health!

If others don’t find your comments funny, it’s a good sign your self-deprecating “humor” is the result of low confidence. In order to communicate

Rachel Beohm

Exploring relationship skills, communication (especially nonverbal), and how to live a full life. Promoter of kindness, gratitude, and joy.