Andrew Tarvin, CEO of Humor That Works and author of "Humor That Works: The Missing Skill for Success and Happiness at Work" shares some tips about incorporating humor in the workplace. Laugh along with his Q&A:
1. Why is humor important to you?
Humor is important to me because of the dual purpose it serves. First, it makes our work more fun. The average person will work 90,000 hours in their lifetime... that is a lot of time to do something you don't enjoy. Humor helps us find the fun in our work so that we actually look forward to doing it.
The second purpose it serves, and the one that I like even more as an engineer, is that it works. Humor is effective with the hardest resource there is to manage: other humans. The fact that it does both is why I'm so passionate about it.
2. How can humor help in the workplace, specifically if it's a more serious environment?
Humor can help us across the five core skills of work: executing, thinking, communicating, connecting and leading. In a serious environment, humor can be particularly helpful with executing. Stress, by itself, isn't a bad thing. It's how we grow and improve. Chronic stress, with no relief, is terrible, and is what leads to increased blood pressure, muscle tension and health issues. Fun fact: The "Type A" personality so many of us proudly own (myself included) was originally a designation to say someone was at higher risk for heart disease.
Humor is an effective strategy for managing stress. It's basically the anti-stress. When we laugh, we decrease blood pressure, relax muscles and strengthen our immune system (we also burn calories... not a lot, but better than nothing!).
Using humor for better execution is also great because no one can control how you think. So even if you work in an environment where they say no laughing whatsoever, well, one, they need some education on the benefits of humor, but, two, they can't stop you from changing your perspective on how you see some of your work. They can't stop you from reading emails in an accent in your head or listening to a comedy podcast on your way home from work so you show up more present for your family.
3. Do you have a certain joke that you rely on frequently in a time of need (stressful situation, high tension, etc.)?
I don't have a specific joke that I use, but more of a mindset. It's a style of humor called "self-enhancing" humor. It's like the Kurt Vonnegut quote, "Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration, I myself prefer to laugh, because there is less cleaning up to do afterward."
When something challenging comes out, we often have two reactions we can take. Rather than letting it overwhelm us, we can find the humor in the situation. One way to do that is by following the "Yes And" mindset of improv. Yes, this stressful situation has occurred, and here's what I'm going to do about it.
4. What is one piece of advice you would give someone who wants to incorporate more humor at work?
What we say at the end of our programs is to drive one smile per hour. What is one thing you can do each hour of the day that brings a smile to your face or the face of someone else? Using humor at work doesn't mean becoming a stand-up comedian and trying to be funny. It's simply finding ways to have more fun. One smile per hour helps you establish a humor habit that can help you with all five skills of work.
5. Have you ever tried to use humor in a situation and it backfired? If so, how did you recover from it?
I've had plenty of times where the humor I've tried fails and doesn't get a laugh or even recognition that it was a humor attempt. But as long as our humor is positive and inclusive, the worst reaction that can happen is silence. No one has ever been fired because of a bad joke (but they have been fired because of an inappropriate one).
If you say something positive and inclusive and no one laughs, it just becomes a positive and inclusive statement. From there, you can either just move on confidently, or you can make a joke about it not working. Most of the time the situation is only awkward if you let it be awkward.