Don’t Forget to Laugh

Dec 01, 2010 2 Comments by

One of my favorite lines from the classic comedy movie Airplane takes place as passenger-turned-emergency pilot Ted Striker – who’s at a loss for how to land a damaged aircraft – begs another passenger Dr. Rumack for ideas:

Ted Striker: Surely there must be something you can do.

Dr. Rumack: I am doing everything I can…and stop calling me Shirley!

I was truly saddened when I heard about this week’s passing of the man who delivered that punchline: acting legend Leslie Nielsen.  The online tributes and television reports all mentioned what many consider his greatest achievement: building two distinctly contrasting yet successful careers.  Nielsen created a solid reputation as a serious Hollywood actor before doing an about-face to become one of the funniest guys in the movies by perfectly mastering the timing and delivery of comedy.

A Seriously Funny Guy: When I think of this legendary funnyman, I realize that humor is funniest when it’s contrasted with serious business.  The same can be said for the use of humor at work.

Today I’ll share a few tips about how your team can use humor to maintain their sanity under pressure and build their effectiveness as a unit.

Humor Does Have a Place: According to a 2007 workplace survey conducted by Robert Half International, 97% of employees think it is important for their boss to have a sense of humor.

Even better news: 87% said that their boss actually had a good sense of humor…  Robert Half CEO Max Messmer summarized the meaning of these two numbers in this way:

“Managers who can laugh at themselves or difficult situations are often seen as more approachable and in touch with the challenges their teams face,” 

Who would want to work at this place?

Approachable bosses also make it safe for team members to joke around a bit…  and this kind of fun can make a challenging project situation a lot more bearable.  The team will also build up a reservoir of good will and “benefit of the doubt” that they can each draw from in the toughest of times.

Be Yourself. They say that the funniest jokes have a bit of truth at their core.  When you reflect on what’s going on around your project and your organization, you will probably stumble into some pretty comical insights about yourself and the other characters who populate your shared world.

Team members who spend a lot of time together over the course of a project will probably get to know each other quite well too.  Sharing interpersonal details and discussing your company’s unique culture can produce the kind of conversations that endear people to each other a lot more than standard motivational team goals like “realizing measurable world class improvements in business process effectiveness“.

It’s not all Monkey Business:  There are a few good rules of thumb to consider before encouraging the wholesale use of office humor however:

1. Timing is Everything. Use comedy in the right situation and they will laugh at the very mention of your legendary punchline. Drop a bomb at the wrong time and people could doubt whether you’re serious about your job. Seriously consider the timing before you unleash your funny bone.

2. Be the Punchline: The safest joke in the world is the one where you admit to doing something silly or embarrassing. Laugh at yourself about those little flaws that continually create comedic situations and others will soon join you. Just be careful not to give the impression that you are open to being the butt of all jokes.

3. Test Drive your Jokes: Consider practicing your material with someone outside of the office before you share it at work. Not everything that’s funny to me is funny to you. For example, a joke about layoffs might not be appreciated if the company is actually doing them and the team knows that you had input into the downsizing process.

4. Know What’s Off Limits:  There are several cardinal rules for comedy in any setting – let alone the workplace.  The following gags and slams have NO place in ANY professional setting:

  • sexist or racist jokes, stories or remarks
  • foul language
  • hurtful criticisms
  • jokes about nationality, religion or heritage
  • criticizing a person’s appearance

The Funny Thing About Comedy: A good laugh can break up the tension of an otherwise very serious situation and keep your team loose and productive. Leslie Neilsen was so funny because he looked so serious and cracked his best jokes in the most stressful situations.  He was a world-class professional who delivered some of the most famous deadpan comedy lines in movie history.  You and your team can enjoy the benefits that humor can bring to the workplace as long as you keep things just as professional.


Questions for Chatter:

  1. What other “off-limits” rules of comedy would you recommend?
  2. What other areas of work life have you found to be safest to joke about?

Incoming search terms:

  • jokes about change in the workplace
  • damaged aircraft

Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Team Dynamics

About the author

I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

2 Responses to “Don’t Forget to Laugh”

  1. Tweets that mention One of my favorite #2010 articles was one on workplace humor & a great funnyman: Leslie Nielsen: #teams #HR #PMO -- says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Barry Deutsch. Barry Deutsch said: RT @chihos: One of my favorite #2010 articles: on workplace humor & a great funnyman: Leslie Nielsen: #teams… […]

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