• June 2011

Dr. Alice Waagen Suggests 15 Ways to Be Funnier at Work

By Dr. Alice Waagen
Founder and President
Workforce Learning

Humor and management may seem like odd bedfellows — unless you are a fan of “The Office,” of course.

Yet, the truth of the matter is that having a sense of humor is vitally important when it comes to directing the work of others. Not only can humor diffuse tense situations, it can lighten the mood, reduce stress, and make the workplace a much more tolerable and enjoyable place.

Given the stresses of modern life, how can more managers manage this skill? Well, to really laugh at something, you need to stop taking it so seriously. Step back and look at the issue in the greater scheme of things and stop hoping your work world, and workers, behaved as you wish they did. Just accept what is, and try to have some fun.

Here are 15 thoughts to get the funny ball rolling.

5 Reasons to Use Humor When Managing Others

1. It’ll make you more popular. If you think that’s not important, consider what Dave Barry says in the main feature this month: “If you can’t laugh in the workplace, you’ll eventually go insane. Also, if you’re funny, usually your co-workers will like you.” So true. In fact, I’d add that being funny also helps you attract great employees who are loyal. Think about it. No one wants to work with a dour curmudgeon. But if you are known as a leader who can occasionally laugh at himself or herself, who keeps work in perspective, who does not turn every event into a crisis, you will have plenty of folks wanting to work for you.

2. Your staff will be loyal. The biggest reason employees cite in satisfaction surveys for enjoying their work is working for a boss they respect and admire. A manager who keeps things light and only gets heavy-handed when needed is easy to work for and be with. Once you’ve become a boss like this, your employees will be reluctant to leave.

3. Your employees will want to come to work. When you create a relaxed and open work environment, everyone is happier. After all, knowing that the boss won’t fly off the handle and yell at every little mistake will encourage employees to be innovative and take risks. Here’s a great leadership mantra to write on your desk blotter: “Laugh at the little mistakes, learn from all mistakes, and save the big hammer for the occasional disastrous gaffs.”

4. You will build good will. When times are great, laughter generates good feelings about the people I work with. When things get tough, employees are much more willing to go the extra mile to help out a colleague. Humor creates interpersonal “glue” that can hold people together during stormy times.

5. Your team will get more done. Add up the results in steps one through four above and you get increased productivity. What manager can argue with that? An old truism states that good leaders are known by their dedicated followers. How do you get folks to follow you? By creating a fun and invigorating work climate that encourages new thought and rewards collaboration.

5 Ways to Increase Your Sense of Humor at Work

1. Take a look at your old calendars. Now look at what you have listed on your to-do list today. Can you even remember what was driving you nuts a month ago? The truth is that there’s nothing like the measure of time to give you perspective.

2. Hang out with people who make you laugh. Humor is contagious. It lifts the spirit and allows us to see things more clearly. Cultivate friendship and mentors who put things in the proper perspective. And lose the gloomy naysayers in your life if possible.

3. Recognize and reward humor in others, especially if they report to you. Tell them you value their outlook on life and welcome them into your world (see #2 above).

4. Use humor to relieve tension. This isn’t just an idea, it’s an effective management strategy. Some argument and debate is healthy, but when the disagreements reach a personal level, lighten up the room with appropriate humor. Caution: This must be done with a light hand or you may turn a smoldering dispute into a raging forest fire.

5. Be selective in your consumption of national and world news. Of course it’s important for our democracy to be informed and engaged, but let’s face it. Lots of what is reported is unnecessarily negative and can’t help but contribute to a negative, humorless world view. When you read the newspaper, read the comics first!

5 Humor No-No’s

1. Never make disparaging comments about people, even if it seems funny at the time. Laugh at things, not each other.

2. Don’t overwhelm. Watch the mood of those around you. Many people are open to a light mood, but some may not be ready to laugh. Match where they are and bring them up a notch or two.

3. Don’t be always up or always down. You will be viewed as single-dimensional and not be taken seriously. Instead, balance humor with seriousness.

4. Don’t try to keep things light if your team is not getting results. Laughter is not appropriate for productivity problems. Be serious, and find out what is wrong. Balance humor with results.

5. Don’t post cartoons or comics. What you find funny may not be funny to others. Remember, the workplace is way too diverse to come up with a universally appreciated joke. So be careful not to offend. That’s never funny.


About Alice Waagen

Alice Waagen, Ph.D., is president and founder of Workforce Learning LLC, a leadership development company she founded in 1997. In the past three years alone, more than 125 leaders from 24 organizations have graduated from Waagen’s unique leadership-development workshop series. Learn more about Waagen’s work at www.workforcelearning.com.

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