Many managers often underestimate the value of humour. Research has shown that it not only offers a most effective tool for engaging and relating to staff, but can also relieve stress, defuse a situation, promote trust and team bonding, restore our equilibrium, deflate our pomposity, reveal our essential humanity, offer us new perspectives, and help us to soar above the mundane in our job. It has been shown that people with a sense of humour do a better job, are more creative, less rigid, and more willing to try new ideas and methods. As one commentator writes:
“Humour must come into your work, because a lot of what happens stops at your door – you deal in crisis management mode all day. And unless you can hit back with humour and a bit of light-heartedness, you’ll find the job extremely depressing. It’s your pressure valve – Humour is the ability to celebrate, to enjoy something that’s a little out of the ordinary. And the fact that you can take delight in it, and celebrate it by laughing and sharing it with others – that is humour*.”
In short, humour can help you and others to cope. What more could a busy manager ask for?
2. Look for humour around you.
It’s everywhere – in the newspaper, as you commute, in the staffroom, in the office or factory – and recognising it can make your days less dour. You have at your fingertips a gold-mine of humorous anecdotes from your own workplace – like the factory supervisor who asked a worker everyone called ‘Slow Joe’ why it was he always carried only one box while all his co-workers carried two. ‘I guess they’re just too lazy to make two trips like I do,’ Joe replied.
3. Find a model.
Think of people who have a great sense of humour – colleagues, relatives, personal friends, or even well-known comedians. Then, when faced with a stressful situation, think of how these people would react. Remember Rodney Dangerfield’s motto, ‘Look out for Number One, but don’t step in Number Two’. It’s a good rule for managers – and a sure stress-buster.
4. Start a ‘funny’ file.
Save funny cartoons, clippings, quotations, and anecdotes. You can draw on them for meetings, speeches, and memos – or when you need a chuckle. When a manager anticipated a budget shortfall recently, he paraphrased Woody Allen: ‘When you’re at a cross-roads in life, one road leads to unhappiness and despair, and the other leads to total destruction. Pray we choose the right road.’ Have a couple of similar wisecracks up your sleeve when you have to release the tension of a situation.
5. Get your life and your job in perspective.
When you’re under stress, it can be impossible to find anything amusing. But, later, try to stand back and ask yourself, ‘What could be funny about this?’ You’ll get a new perspective and feel a greater sense of control over the event if you can laugh at it later on.
6. Get support.
Form a network of friends who help you laugh at situations – and at yourself. Rely on each other when pressures mount. Go out for dinner with your staff a couple of times each year . Have a good laugh. The fun and laughs and enjoyment will help to weld you together as a team.
7. Work on your surroundings.
Use humorous items in your workplace: stationery, buttons, cards, notices, photocopies. They can make you seem more human to the rest of the staff, and they can keep you from taking yourself too seriously.
8. Swap anecdotes.
Encourage staff to tell their funny stories; tell your own at staff meetings or informally. Many things that staff, co-workers, or relatives say and do are amusing.
9. Develop a humour bulletin board.
Have a place in the staffroom where your staff can post a cartoon or clipping worth a good chuckle or two.
10. Laugh with, not at, someone.
Humour must be used as a constructive tool, not a destructive weapon. If humour is contrived or hurtful, it is not humour. The essence of humour is laughing ‘with’ – the sharing of a joke or seeing the funny side of a situation. Above all, a sense of humour should never be confused with sarcasm. If you must laugh at someone, you’d better make it yourself!
11. Don’t go overboard.
Finally, a word of caution about all this: You don’t have to be a stand-up comedian – nor should you try to be. Too many jokes can damage your credibility and take time away from the important decisions and activities that should make up your day.
So, go ahead. Lighten up a bit today.