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What Can Laughter Do For Your Workplace?

Comedy has been the mainstay of my professional life for many years so I am admittedly prejudiced, but it seems that humor often gets a bad rap.  A suggestion that a sense of humor belongs in the boardroom, the executive offices, the various departments, or even on the assembly line, is frequently met with skepticism or resistance.  “We’ve got serious work to do here.  There’s no time for nonsense or buffoonery.”

A true sense of humor is far from buffoonery.  Some very powerful people relied on it.  Abraham Lincoln was famous for his amusing anecdotes.  He said he didn’t use them to entertain or to generate applause; he depended on them to explain complicated ideas in a more simplified manner.  

When Ronald Reagan was running for re-election, a debate moderator asked a question about his age.  He replied, “I refuse to make age an issue in this campaign.  I will not exploit the youth and inexperience of my opponent.”  The camera angle even caught his opponent, Walter Mondale, laughing at that.  In the post debate analysis, no one accused Reagan of being frivolous or flippant.  Rather most agreed that the President scored heavily with humor and effectively banished the age question from the rest of the campaign.
A better understanding of a sense of humor might overcome the managerial opposition to it.  A true sense of humor is the ability to see the overall picture.  It’s putting events in their proper perspective.  It’s an escape from narrow-mindedness.  It’s being able to think logically and quickly.  There’s a reason why the terms wit and wisdom are often linked.  Most wisdom can be expressed succinctly and eloquently with wit.

Winston Churchill had an admirable and active sense of humor.  He once attended an official function in his later years.  Some people seated behind him noticed him and whispered, “That’s Winston Churchill.”  Another person said, “They say he’s aging rapidly.”  Another said, “They say he’s not helping this nation anymore.”  Another whispered, “They say he should step aside and leave the running of this government to younger, more dynamic, more effective people.”  Churchill seemed oblivious to their comments.  When he was leaving at the close of the ceremony, though, he stopped where these folks were seated, leaned over to them, and whispered, “They also say he’s deaf.”
Here are a few ways in which humor can be a benefit in the workplace – both to the worker and whomever he or she works for:
Picture an office or a factory where everyone has a pleasant sense of humor.  It makes them congenial and fun to be around.  It’s almost axiomatic that with those conditions and proper management,  production will improve.

Personality problems, office back-stabbing, trivial disputes, resentment, and jealousies inhibit creative production.  A compatible atmosphere doesn’t necessarily eliminate these common problems, but it can take some of the sting out of them.

One of the ground rules of brainstorming sessions is that no criticism be offered during the creative process.  Why?  Because criticism can trigger resentment.  It can also occupy the mind of the suggester with defense of the idea.  That mind is now eliminated from the creative team.  One person who is justly criticized may now unjustly criticize another just to get even.  The more cordial atmosphere promotes more and better output.

Another fringe benefit of an agreeable workplace ambience is that people don’t mind being there.  We all hate the alarm clock when it interrupts our sleep, but after we reconcile ourselves to that intrusion, we think about going to work.  It’s usually not the work that we dislike, but the place — having to be there.  Making it more pleasant can cut down on absenteeism.  Obviously, much more work gets done when the employees show up for work.
Cooperation among employees is essential for business success.  Each person can’t simply do his or her part.  Everyone has to coordinate the parts so that they fit perfectly into the finished product.  In his book, Lee Iacocca stated, “All of Chrysler’s problems really boiled down to the same thing: nobody knew who was on first.  There was no team, only a collection of independent players.”

When workplace teams must respond to emergency situations, they often spend the bulk of their time arguing that the problem wasn’t their fault.  I often felt that if I were on a boat, fell overboard, and yelled for help; this group would rush to the ship’s railing and instead of throwing a life preserver, would argue about which one pushed or didn’t push me in.

Employees with a sense of humor can work better together.  Being able to see the overall picture, which is part of that sense of humor, helps them to work better toward the overall goal. 
The first suggestion in problem solving is to gather the facts – all of the facts.  No decision can be guaranteed valid unless it includes the overall picture.  A sense of humor helps us see the big panorama, so it helps us think more clearly.

A sense of humor also promotes creativity because it eliminates mental inhibitions.  Fear of the boss, the need to impress, reluctance to be criticized — all of these and countless others can affect our thinking process.  We don’t give the answer we feel is right; we give the answer we think the questioner wants to hear.  A true sense of humor puts us in proper perspective with our superiors, peers, inferiors, and ourselves.  It eliminates many restrictions and frees our mind to think more logically.
Stress is an insidious, destructive, and ever-present force in today’s life — in the home as well as the workplace.  Humor is the best antidote – legal or illegal, prescription or non-prescription –for stress.  People or events can’t cause stress.  It’s our reaction to the events that causes stress, and we can control our response.  We can rely on our sense of humor.  If we recognize the irony of a problematic situation we can laugh it away and dismiss it.  If we dwell on it, we simply prolong it.
A person with a well developed sense of humor is congenial, pleasant to associate with, and a great advertisement for the company.  Most people would rather do business with someone like that than a sour-pussed curmudgeon.  Doing business is what business is all about.
If you can find the humor in any disagreeable situation, you’ll be a much more balanced person.  You’ll be more valuable to yourself, your employer, and probably most important of all, to your family.

Keep on laughing.

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