Laughing Your Way Through Office Stress 

By Judy Carter

If you're not laughing your way through your workday, you aren't alone. In this era of political correctness, Corporate America has become humor impaired. Laughing at work evaporates faster than Liquid Paper. People are afraid to tell jokes because they might get fired for offending someone. Plus the boss might think they don't take their work seriously. In some parts of the country, people never laughed in the first place. And in West Los Angeles, one-out-of-every-three people can't laugh anymore -- too much Botox.

Restore humor, fun and laughter to Corporate America!  Matter of fact, a sense of humor is an effective business tool that can help advance your career.

I'm not suggesting that boasting about bodily functions or telling nun jokes at the water cooler will secure a spot up the corporate ladder. But humor can put clients at ease, lighten up a staff meeting, frame memos that people actually read, and close a sale. Laughter is also a great de-stressor. Studies have shown that when people are having fun at work, they enjoy their jobs more, stay at them longer, and do better work. That lowers the attrition rate for a company and improves the bottom line.   No joke!

Let's face it, we all want to work with, work for and even date people who can make us laugh. So why do we abandon our sense of humor as soon as soon as we back the car out of the garage? To prevent bonkers-dom during the next work crisis -- or deter others from calling in for airy-fairy mental-health holidays, consider these tips on how to maintain a lighthearted attitude, build your network, motivate staff and achieve your professional goals:

1. Joke about yourself - everyone else probably is. It's not a  receding hairline - it' s a punch-line!  Take your work and responsibilities seriously, but not yourself. People like leaders who are willing to poke fun at themselves. A little self-deprecating humor can go a long way, so admit and joke about your shortcomings rather than try to hide them. I'm not suggesting that you say to your boss, "Yes, I am utterly incompetent, ha ha!" Some things are best not advertised. But a little light humor can set a positive tone for the workplace. The next time someone asks you, "How are you?" Tell them the truth - "I'm having a bad comb-over day."

2. Use humor in the stressful situations: As a standup comic, I know that life's ups and downs are a great source for comic material. After all, comedy material is based on the "bad" things that happen in life. To a standup comic, it's not a miserable marriage, its comedy material. Likewise for a sales presentation gone south. When an important client told regional sales manager Bob,  "After seeing this report, I can tell that you are a complete idiot," Bob recouped. Rather than getting defensive, he exaggerated the jibe. "You're so smart!  You figured out I was an idiot in five minutes. It usually takes people three months to figure that out about me!" Bob kept his humor --and the client.

It's no wonder that politicians have comedy writers on their staff. Democratic Presidential candidate Howard Dean turned to comedy to stave off the political damage of his primal outburst in Iowa. Afterwards, Dean said, "Iowa is behind me and now I look forward to screaming at voters in New Hampshire." Okay, he still lost the election, but he kept his cool about losing his cool.

3. Structure fun: At least once a day, lighten up the office by doing something unexpected. Humor and joking aren't reserved for the brazen. Southwest Airlines has proved that a little risk is worth the pay off. Its flight attendants are known to sing the emergency announcement over the public address system. Managers wear pig noses during corporate meetings. And guess what? Southwest has the lowest attrition and absenteeism and most productive workforce in the industry, not to mention a reputation for highly creative and innovative management.

4. Diffuse conflict with humor: Being defensive lowers your status, builds tension and leads to bad business decisions. If you hear a negative comment, can you put a positive spin on it? This is a comic's trick. For example, one woman didn't like her co-worker claim that she was aggressive. Her response: "Why thank you. I understand our Secretary of State has been called that too, so I'm in good company!"

When your boss says, “Smile, you look prettier when you smile.”  Just say, “Thank you. And I look drop dead gorgeous when I get a raise!”

Toxic, negative people are all around us. Sometimes they are our bosses and sometimes they're working in the next cubicle. Whatever the situation, don't leave your humor in the hallway. "This report is just as bad as your last report!" "Well, at least I'm consistent!" But then let your boss know that you heard the underlying message too, and that if there is a way to accomplish a task that would be more effective, you'll try. It's just that you won't suffer.

Sometimes, in tense deliberations, a strategically placed joke can shift power to your side. When Ronald Reagan was under pressure to defend his economic policies, he said, "I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself."

5. Keep yourself in the comedy zone: When giving a speech that has a list of items, add humor by making the 3rd item a surprise. For example "There are three things that are troubling the world today: terrorism, the war in Iraq, and Britney Spears is going to be a mother!"

Don' t wait for life to get the better of you to get a sense of humor. It's not what happens that determines your happiness; it's how you chose to look at it. When things happen that make you want to call suicide hotline, remember: You have a choice. You can get stressed out and drink, or you can laugh… and drink!  So don't get mad, get funny.

Read other articles and learn more about Judy Carter.

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