Laughing Matters

Yesterday I co-led a workshop at the East Side Institute entitled Laughing Matters where we explored the role of humor in our lives.  The participants created humor together — it was a joyous and delightful exploration of this vital human activity.

I recently came across an interesting article in Forbes – Are Funny People More Successful in Business? which got me thinking about what we learned in our workshop, as well as my own experiences as a funny person in the workplace.

The article quotes Steven Sultanoff, Ph.D., the former president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor:

Sultanoff says that people who are funny likely will be perceived as more enjoyable and as better employees because they are in fact more successful. “If someone is using humor then they are connecting with people and building relationships, which creates opportunities that other people may not have.”

One of the discoveries that we made at our workshop is the social nature of humor.  I was pleased to see this quote because I wholeheartedly agree that humor is one of the very best ways to connect with people.  I would take it a step further to say that we are not simply “using humor”, we are creating with another person or people.  Not only are we a relational species, we have a wonderful and often underutilized capacity to endlessly create!  (Think back to how we played as children.)

There is a difference — another thing we discovered at our workshop — between creating humor together and “being funny” or “making people laugh”.  This is an important distinction because, as is noted in the Forbes article, one can be mean-spirited and “get a laugh”, whereas the social activity of creating humor together is profoundly positive.

The workplace can be a most a stressful environment so finding (and even seeking out) opportunities to create humor together is an important way that we can let go of that stress and play. Being a proponent of play, the results of this study make good sense to me:

Research shows that successful humor boosts both personal productivity and group effectiveness. According to Michelle Gielan, an expert in positive psychology and cofounder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research, when something makes us smile or laugh, the feel-good chemical dopamine is dropped into our systems, which turns on all the learning centers in the brain and heightens creativity, productivity and engagement.

Being an improvisational comedienne is one of the best tools I have to navigate a stressful day at work.  I find that I use humor all day long!  One reason I’ve been able to build a strong relationship with my manager at one of my ongoing client engagements is his appreciation that being playful in the midst of a high pressured environment makes it possible to work hard and be productive.

Play is under-appreciated and under-utilized in the workplace, which is a shame, given how much more creative, productive and innovative we are when we are playing.  I was heartened to read the final paragraph of the article:

Despite the avenues for failure, some companies are betting on humor’s benefits. “Humor and play are in the corporate mission statements of Southwest Airlines, Google and Ben & Jerry’s,” Sultanoff says. “At most places, you won’t read it in the manual, but I think companies should be thinking about it.” He notes that only 15% of people are fired for incompetence—the other 85% are fired for not getting along with others. Used effectively, humor helps people get along, decreases turnover and increases productivity.

Yes… laughing matters!

Funny … that’s empowering!

I was reading a Management Type of the Day from Harvard Business Review – “Find the 3 Ingredients to Job Satisfaction” – and thinking about “mastering what you are good at”.  

A good manager develops their employees’ strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses.  Having once worked for a manager who criticized my work but never appreciated or praised work I performed, I know how demoralizing that can be.  I don’t think this only applies to the boardroom.  I would say that it is something to live by in how we relate to ourselves, to others, and to the world.  

It’s easy to focus on the hardship in the world we live in and it’s easy to focus on people’s weaknesses and rush to judgement.  On any given day we can surely focus on the things we did that were “wrong” – an interaction with a colleague, a harshly worded email, a rushed phone call that we regret.  The challenge is to build on the positives, what IS working in the world, in our lives, in our work.

When I am collaborating with someone who sees my strengths and builds upon them it is empowering – and visa-versa.  It is an improvisational scene in which we build on the offers our partner gives, rather than negating them.  Creativity and innovation arises from this activity.

As a performer of improv comedy humor is one of my strengths, with all of the interpersonal capabilities that go along with my improvisational tool kit.  I have found that using humor and improv in variety of business situations is incredibly valuable and, in my opinion, is under-utilized.

Here’s a wonderful video that exemplifies the playful use of humor in a business setting – enjoy!