Toss Out Some Humor
to Lighten the Work Load
By Elaine Ambrose
Jennifer was a customer service
representative for a large technology firm. Though her dreams and
aspirations never included sitting in a padded cubicle listening to
rude customers, that’s what she did for eight hours a day.
Usually, the problems were related to consumer ignorance, and she
would patiently instruct them to put in a battery or plug the device
into an electrical outlet. To keep her sanity, she used a
collection of finger puppets on her desk and pretended the callers
were puppets. Then she could see and talk to the clown or the pig
or the snooty lady bouncing on her finger. She used humor to
From Shakespeare to Dilbert, ordinary characters rely on comedy to
endure the struggles of life and death. As Mercutio lies dying in
the tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet” his last words are, “A plague on
both your houses! They have made worm’s meat of me!” Then he
laughs and dies. That’s a morbidly funny line. Worm’s meat? Would
that really be a man’s last thought? Shakespeare is playing with
the audience so the tragedy won’t be too horrific.
In the passionate and wildly popular Broadway musical “Les
Miserables,” we’re exhausted as we witness the endless pain and
terrible turmoil of characters who just want to live one more day to
fulfill their destiny. Then just before we sink into a deep
depression, the drunken innkeeper and his wife burst onto the stage
with a hilarious rendition of “Master of the House.” The audience
cheers with gratitude for the temporary emotional reprieve.
In a recent Dilbert cartoon, the intern Asok is killed and
reincarnated as a candy bar. Office workers can relate to Asok, but
the episode made us laugh anyway. Why? We’re amused because nothing
diffuses daily drama like a boisterous belly laugh. Studies prove
laughter can reduce stress, increase creativity and lessen
tensions. Happy people are healthier than crabby people, and
they’re a lot more fun to be around. Jovial people can tackle
problems with a positive attitude while pessimistic whiners only
take up space while wasting time and life by drafting hate mail and
threatening law suits.
Just in case you meet or work with nasty people who only exist to
bring pain and suffering to the world, here are some suggestions for
using humor to diffuse stressful situations.
Before going to a serious meeting, walk by an outside
playground and listen to the laughter of the children. Try to
recapture that exuberant feeling of having fun. You don’t have
to install a swing set in your office to remember how it feels
to swing high and almost touch the clouds.
Cheerfully empathize with people who drive you crazy. Maybe the
coworker who criticizes your work has an intolerable life at
home or is caring for a sick child. That would explain his or
her irritating behavior. Or, the coworker could just be truly
obnoxious and you should stay away from them as much as
If you’re in a tense meeting and tempers are flaring, stand up
and wave a white flag. Threaten to send everyone to “time out”
if they can’t get along. Your boss may not approve of your
actions, but it could lighten the mood.
If you’re unfortunate enough to be placed on a rigid committee
that can’t find consensus on anything, carry a jester’s hat in
your briefcase. As emotions escalate and you’d rather break for
lunch, just don the hat and announce that you are Feste the Fool
of Shakepeare’s “Twelfth Night.” Dramatically sing his immortal
line: “Come away, come away death!” You’ll all be laughing
your way through the lunch line.
If you’re cursed enough to be deemed in charge of the office
holiday party, know in advance that you cannot please everyone
and that you are doomed to failure. Just emulate the television
show Seinfeld. During one politically correct episode, they
organized a “Festivus for the Rest of Us” party where they
celebrated nothing. It worked.
Share the joy by driving to work wearing a clown nose. At the
stoplight, look over and smile at the people in the next car.
You’ll brighten their day because they’ll laugh on their way to
work, or else they’ll report you to the police. That’s OK
because the noses come off quickly.
Employ popular tricks and tactics that you use with your family
to improve unconstructive situations at work. If your assistant
gets an important report done on time, give him an extra-long
lunch hour. Legal bribery works wonders, and you’re both
Never forget that there are people who want you to be
miserable. They may want your job or your car or your spouse.
They will publicly criticize you and make your life miserable.
Just laugh at the situation and be thankful the person isn’t
your parent. However, if it is your parent, get some
Never forget that there are people who want you to be happy.
You should belong to some social, professional or civic
organizations where you can mingle with supportive people who
share your values, skills and aspirations. Just ignore Groucho
Marx’s famous comment that he would never belong to a club that
would have him as a member.
Silence is goal-oriented. While it can be fun to slay the
competition with a well-placed witticism, sometimes it’s best to
pick your battles, remain silent and allow the adversary to
publicly prove that she’s a fool. If she goes into a tirade,
concentrate on her left ear and imagine it’s a donkey’s ear.
You will look cool, calm and collected while she self-destructs
faster than the Wicked Witch of the West. You can make your sly
comments after you’re promoted.
The best advice is to know that if you’re wallowing with the pigs,
get out of the sty. You don’t have to tolerate uncomfortable,
hostile or abusive treatment, and if you’re not occasionally
laughing at work, you can’t work. Consider a department change or
pursue educational opportunities for advancement. If you’re going
to live to be 100, you might as well enjoy the journey. And don’t
forget to pack your sense of humor.
Read other articles and learn more
about Elaine Ambrose.
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