I remember an incident some years back when I had just joined my first company. Our Big Boss had come all the way down from Delhi to look at us minions in the far-flung branch office and flex his muscles, so to say.
In his typical brash style he was standing one evening, one leather-shod foot up on a chair, the other planted down on the floor, while he was aggressively beginning to take to task our hapless branch manager, who was trying to bear it.
The Big Man had just begun on his tirade when one of our colleagues from another department, known to have a wit (and as we discovered, also a presence of mind) came into the room, summed up the situation at a glance and then going up to the Boss told him, “Ah excuse me, but I think that is my chair on which you are resting your tired feet. I’ve been searching for it and I find that it is hiding itself in this room. May I take it back into my custody please?”
For a second the Boss looked astonished and then he started to smile. That broke up the tense atmosphere. It was a huge lesson to me and one, which I have never forgotten – the power of humour in handling tricky situations and indeed its importance in the workplace.
I’ve worked in many places since and I’ve been very lucky that most of them have been places where humour and laughter were encouraged. Those whom I’ve worked with, including my bosses, were easy-going people, though very committed to their jobs. They had the rare ability to laugh at themselves. I have also been fortunate enough to work with teammates who were never too busy to respond to a joke or laugh even when we were working under tough deadlines.
Of course, there have been one or two places, which were too stuffy and I was never comfortable there and could not stick it out for more than a few months.
But, I have found, that humour is not, in fact, tolerated in many offices much.
People tend to take themselves and their jobs in a deadly serious manner. Laughter is taken as a sign of frivolity. Any humour consists of the unkind one where people are often laughing at others, or at the expense of others.
Do you know that humour actually makes people relax? It also relieves stress and employees tend to make fewer mistakes in such an atmosphere.
Evidence has shown that humour invigorates and makes people more humour doesn’t mean only cracking jokes or sending around those chain mail ‘forwards’ of internet jokes that are circulating forever. It means being able to keep a stable perspective on things; seeing the lighter side of a situation; knowing that being a few minutes late on a deadline will not really push the universe off its course.
Humour also has the ability to unite people and it is one of the best ways to create teams that can work together in harmony. Have you seen the way old friends laugh and bond when they are together? If we can do it with friends, why not with our colleagues at work?
Offices rivalries are notorious and often have the potential to escalate into disruptive situations. However these kind of hostilities can be defused if people have a sense of humour and the principles concerned realise that it is after all, not a ‘life and death’ matter.
A boss with a sense of humour will be better able to lead a team than one who takes her job and herself seriously. This is because she becomes more approachable and her team members feel at ease with her. They feel able to take their problems to her. Remember that even a strict boss can have a sense of humour – as I said before, it’s an attitude.
Conflict situations in the boardroom or at the workplace can often be resolved with a sense of humour. It helps to ease tension, lessen pressure and puts us in a better mood. This makes us more receptive to the opinions and viewpoints of others and enables us to meet them halfway.
Creativity and innovation can be stifled in an atmosphere where there is a constant pressure to adhere to deadlines and meet targets. Humour can actually help to dispel the sense of undue gravity and it is necessary because the mind has to be free of fear.
I remember once we were all asked to work on October 2, Gandhiji’s birth anniversary. There were a lot of grumbles and rumbles throughout the office but nobody actually dared to challenge the fiat. One female colleague, who had recently married and had made plans for that day, decided to be bold. She walked up to the boss and asked him openly, “I want to take an off on the second. Can I?”
The boss looked at her in silence and then said deadpan, “only, if you are dead!”
He however said it with a smile and that took the sting out of his answer. The rest us cracked up at his reply and that sort of eased the whole situation. It put us in a better frame of mind to lose that holiday.
One should however note that it is never good policy to laugh at others, at least not in a mean way. Making fun of others in front of everyone and laughing at them is not humour, especially if you feel that the butt of your jokes is not appreciating them. This becomes all the more important if you are a team
The first team that I ever led was a young bunch of raw recruits and the kind of job we were doing required us to be alert and fast. There was very little scope for making mistakes and learning from them and the only way I could ensure their enthusiastic co-operation was by keeping the atmosphere light and taking away the psychological pressure. By not stressing too much on the critical nature of their work, the first few difficult weeks passed off uneventfully.
Some people have a natural sense of humour and for those who don’t – I think you need to cultivate it. It definitely pays to have it, especially when you are at the receiving end of a tongue-lashing.