I like to laugh. I like to laugh a lot, and I have one of those laughs that you can hear down the street. I’ve been told it is infectious. Actually, my husband was once told by new neighbours that they loved his wife’s laugh. They could hear it through their closed windows in the winter.
My laughter is an intrinsic part of me. I can’t express myself without it showing up sooner or later. So you can imagine that when I’m at work, that laughter is still in play. It’s what helps me get closer to people, it helps me to engage. Not surprisingly, it’s easier to know someone when you laugh with them. Yeah, I can focus. I’ve been known to start the first conversation of the day by asking about a project and then remembering to say good morning and take off my coat, but I always go back to laughing. One of my old bosses claimed he could hear me laughing at the building’s entrance, down the corridor, four floors below. He was unimpressed, I think he underestimated the echo effect of elevator shafts.
Sometimes, when laughter makes it’s way into conversations about work there is the impression that a professional atmosphere doesn’t include a sense of humour. I always wonder why. Are you working with humans? Humans don’t wear one emotion indefinitely and we spend more time at work than we do in almost any other endeavour. I’m not suggesting becoming the office goof or showing disrespect, just that you need to have a release valve at work, the same way that you do anywhere. Arguably, the more stressful your job, the more often you should look for humour as a release. That pent up energy has to go somewhere and too often anger is the outcome.
I work for an amazing home care organization. We have thousands of nurses, personal support workers and volunteers moving in and out of private homes all day long, every day. You can imagine that with that much interaction, I periodically get called in because situations have escalated into potential media problems. They aren’t always funny, in fact, they rarely are and they can ratchet up the tension quickly. So calm and humour are often the tools that I use to diffuse a situation. Again, because it bares repeating, appropriate humour.
There are other times when the situation is so strange or silly that the only thing you can do is laugh. A while back one of our sites contacted me when the son of a client threatened to go to the media because our nurse refused to visit his mother. She refused because every time she went, the son, a man in his thirties, would be dressed in nothing but his underwear. Eventually the nurse was so unnerved by the man’s near nudity (remember, he’s not the client) that she finally put her foot down and refused to go unless he put on some pants during her visits.
When the site contacted me to share this problem there was an awkward silence. I was on the line with a very concerned district executive director and an equally serious director of risk. Eventually I burst out laughing, then said, “Let him go to the media. It will be the best coverage we’ve ever had. The public will get a chance to see how difficult the job of our front line workers is.”
My reaction was unanticipated by my colleagues, but it diffused the tension that was building and gave a little perspective. Not all situations are worth a laugh, but sometimes you have to relax and release. The Wall Street Journal recently carried a great article on the value of humour at a work. In it they not only suggest it’s a good idea but share some of the science behind why. Notably, being funny makes you seem smarter, employers like people with a sense of humour, it builds rapport and when you laugh it stimulates the same part of your brain that reacts when you get a big bonus check. Not bad for a giggle, so laugh it up.