a tool in business
In the middle of a
very tense meeting, someone makes a joke... good move or bad timing?"
You displayed an inappropriate use of humor in the workplace." My coach said hesitantly. With that remark, I knew my career was cast. Actually I didn't understand what upset him. I was on a five day training class for future executives. We role played, did an "in-box" exercise to evaluate our judgment skills and finally had to do a formal presentation to the other classmates.
My presentation involved getting everyone to snap their fingers in rhythm to my bluesy rap that introduced the problem statement leading, quite nicely, into a boring PowerPoint presentation. While I got kudos for creativity, my off the wall humor left the coaches wanting.
Humor. I believe when used properly is one of the most powerful tools in business.
The global consulting company executive sat across the table looking me in the eye. He was not happy with the negotiations. His underlings were anxious. I had what he wanted but he was not willing to pay for it. My team sat relaxed but with growing impatience as to where this was heading. Finally, feeling the pressure, he looked at me coldly and asked "What will you do if we do not reach an agreement?" With a small grin I said "Give you a good reference?" And everyone laughed, thus relieving the tension.
An embarrassing comment. A momentary lapse in judgment. A make or break decision. A difficult discussion with your boss or employee. Stress is a killer, literally. We have all heard the fact that the human face uses fewer muscles to smile than to frown.
We were born to smile.
A well used line that generates laughter often builds energy in a discussion. A harsh statement of judgment stops progress dead in its tracks. Why do we find it easier to criticize than to compliment? Is it all the negative news we are subjected to everyday? Is the nature of business to constantly "problem solve" thus encouraging us to look for the bad versus the good? Whatever it is, it increase stress, slows down progress and demotivates us in my humble opinion.
Finally arriving at the South Col, 26500 feet on Everest, I crawled into our tent. Looking around I noticed my sleeping bag was missing. Upon my simple query, the Guide answered "I never thought you would make it." An involuntary response, I simply laughed out loud. An inexcusable decision on his part, I was left with few options and no where to go. My relaxed attitude reduced the stress I already felt attempting summit the world's highest mountain and allowed me to move on emotionally. By the way, my sleeping bag showed up a few hours later
The best humor is the self-depreciating kind. Making jokes at the expense of others is often viewed as a power play thus adding to stress not relieving it. By putting yourself out there for jokes, you become more human and accessible.
Humor used poorly can be a disaster. It can be viewed that you are not serious, dedicated or interested. Taken out of context, your humorous quotes can be a weapon by your political enemies. Be wise about your references. Be sensitive to special situations and never use off-color or insensitive humor. However, don't let these boundaries stop you.
Everyone can be "terminally professional". We have all seen these people. They rarely smile. Every conversation would make Joe Friday proud: "Just the facts." They carry the weight of the world on their shoulders and expect you to do the same. They are depressing and bring everyone around them down. These people need a life.
We often confuse humor with being unprofessional. Being professional is not a bluff in a poker game, it is knowing when to smile and when to cry and having the courage to do both.
A final thought: Don't give it if you can't take it. Some of my most cherished moments of humor were when I was the butt of the joke. It sealed relationships, demonstrated courage and was fun.