Take your job seriously, but take yourself lightly. This according to Jeff Justice, a motivational humorist, who says humor goes a long way in the battle against stress.
Justice also says that “humor can be used in stress reduction, problem solving, team building, and improving communications.” And he’s quick to point out that humor doesn’t mean having to tell jokes. In fact humor is often about finding a unique way to connect two separate events or ideas.
The really cool thing is that humor is a known stress reducer.
Scott Friedman, a popular speaker and author who holds degrees in marketing and psychology, says, “Humor creates an instant bond.” He also says it removes negative, non-productive feelings and creates a fresh new approach to situations.
The idea is to laugh about a situation while it’s happening – it keeps oxygen going to the brain and keeps a person thinking more clearly.
While all that is good, caution should be a guideline for humor in the workplace. Yes, laughter can help stress, but sometimes it should occur internally.
For example, you probably shouldn’t choose something funny to say if the boss announces that sales are down 25 percent. Making light of every little thing that happens might sound appealing, but too much of a good thing causes a bad thing.
Consider one place of employment I know about, where they have an employee who drops one-liners at everything. Yes, the man’s comments are funny, but it’s become so pervasive that he’s perceived as someone who doesn’t take anything seriously. In fact, some people don’t like working with him anymore because his comments are so distracting from the work at hand.
At another place of business, one employee’s continuous sense of humor was causing people to get offended. And, as in the above example, his relentless wisecracking also distracted other employees from being productive. It was clearly a case of too much of a good thing.
Because of this, think of humor as salt: A little can be good, but too much of it becomes unpalatable. As the English poet Samuel Butler once said, “It is tact that is golden, not silence.” And I’m told it was Shakespeare who said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
Dr. Joni Johnston of the company Workplace Relationships offers a few tips for using humor at work:
1. Pay attention to clues about your co-worker’s mood.
2. Trust your intuition.
3. Take yourself lightly.
4. Use humor as the icing, not the cake.
5. Avoid playful insults.
Johnston says that humor should be used at the right time, in appropriate amounts, and shouldn’t make fun of an individual. In other words, if you make light of something, choose to make light of the situation, not a person.
Here’s a good example of that, offered by Jeff Justice: A creative female employee got tired of her boss rejecting her budget. He kept telling her it needed to be smaller. When she finally got her budget down to bare bones, he still rejected it.
Knowing she couldn’t make it any smaller and still do the work required of her, she took her papers over to the copy machine and kept reducing the images until they were the size of a postage stamp. When she took it back to her boss, they both had a good laugh. And, her boss gave in and okayed her budget.
One of Justice’s approaches for using humor to combat stress is imagining the stressful situation at it’s absolute worst. When you take the situation on a mental journey to the point where it becomes absurd, it then can become funny – and it also makes the present situation not seem quite as bad!
Try some of these techniques and see if they work for you. I’ve used several of these techniques with much success, including helping me get through boot camp “way back when.” In a military boot camp environment, company commanders and drill sergeants manufacture stressful situations to “make a soldier/sailor out of you.” Ask any veteran and they’ll probably agree that learning to laugh about the events while they were happening made it easier to cope.
It’s kind of like what Bill Cosby says: “If you can laugh at it, you can survive it.”
Bottom line: If you’re stressed, don’t stress about it more, but rather look for a way to connect your current situation to something ironic and perhaps even silly. If it helps, think of yourself as starring in your own comedy movie. By looking for and finding the humor, you’ll send more oxygen to your brain so you can think clearer, and you’ll probably enjoy life a bit more along the way.
And also remember what Jeff Justice tells us: “He who laughs – lasts!”
Dan Bobinski is president of Leadership Development, Inc. and director at the Center for Workplace Excellence. Reach Dan at (208) 375-7606 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.