If you want to lead a team, you have to be able to laugh.
Laughing relieves stress, stimulates creative thought processes and relaxes people in conflict situations. If you want to lead a team, you have to be able to laugh.
There’s nothing haughty about Michelle Obama: she did push-ups with TV host Ellen DeGeneres, competed in a sack race in the White House, danced with Big Bird on Sesame Street, and even rapped about motivating people who are overweight to get exercising. In addition to her social projects, she is popular for precisely this self-deprecating style and her sense of humour.
Michelle Obama celebrates skills that are still rare in the professional arena yet vital to a successful career. Unfortunately, as lamented by the German Institute for Humour, a sense of humour is often set aside in the workplace. Even university graduates with exceptional grades and international work experience under their belt realise after starting work that skills like these make the difference. Their superiors often ask them if they are able to maintain a positive mood despite looming deadlines and a flood of emails to deal with. And is it not even easier to implement those all-important soft skills such as empathy or good communication with a more humorous approach to the situation? Exactly!
Loosen those facial muscles
The importance of humour in the workplace becomes obvious when looking at studies about stress. Good humour can prevent burnout, as researchers showed in an article in the specialist publication Journal of Organizational Behavior.
The study of 179 fire fighters showed that joking around a little created distance and relaxation.
Humour acted as a buffer in what were frequently high-stress situations. The same applies in the office: the right joke at the right time helps resolve gridlock situations. It can break down entrenched views, and colleagues can laugh away their stress and open themselves to new points of view.
The Institute for Humor Research at Stanford University in California, which was founded 55 years ago, proved the incredibly positive effects of laughing on the human body. Just 20 seconds of laughter can relax the body as much as three minutes of running. When we laugh, we breathe more deeply, which increases oxygen levels in the blood. A smile relaxes our facial muscles, our brain synapses obtain new stimuli and endorphins flood the body. So, laughing not only banishes stress, it also promotes creative thinking. A humorous viewpoint opens up new perspectives and facilitates a more peaceful exchange about topics that are fraught with tension.
Why women are humour champions
Humour has long been part and parcel of the workplace in Scandinavia, one good example being Norwegian entrepreneur Inger Ellen Nicolaisen. She is the founder of Nikita Hair, which, with more than 150 salons, is one of the biggest hair and beauty franchises in Europe. Nicolaisen believes that humour is one of the most important leadership qualities one can have and asks her managers to put their teams in a good mood every morning by having a chat and a laugh together. That’s also what humour trainer Eva Ullmann encourages. She shows managers how to use amusing situations to achieve their goals, get their employees to relax or capture the audience’s attention during presentations.
Ullmann is sure that women have a kinder sense of humour and are better able to make team members feel included. This is essential, since a negative mood within the team is the second most common reason for quitting a job, as shown in by survey from the career advisory service von Rundstedt.
However, it must be said that humour takes many forms. It is highly versatile in the form of wordplay, jokes, poking fun and amusing behaviour. But it can also occur indirectly and ambiguously in the form of satire or sarcasm, which can make colleagues feel unsure of themselves. So, good humour is something that needs to be learned.
Here are our tips for ensuring good humour:
1. Give yourself a break from time to time
Humour doesn’t mean firing off one joke after another, but remaining calm and reacting with a smile, even in stressful situations. This only works if you take time for yourself. So make sure you don’t end up pushed for time at important events, and plan a little buffer when you have meetings with colleagues, customer presentations or interviews.
2. Enjoy your laughter lines
Laughter lines give people a charismatic appearance, so be proud of them! Real laughter can be recognised by the “crows’ feet” lines around the outside edge of your eye. So don’t paralyse those muscles and smooth the lines with Botox: own them!
3. Seek contact with others
Laughter can be triggered by an amusing situation, good news or physical contact such as tickling. You can also draw on these factors at work. Of course, we’re not saying you should go around the office tickling your colleagues, but a fist-bump for instance can make the atmosphere feel more relaxed and can lower aggression. This is because visibly appreciating good work helps keep your staff feeling motivated, with the result being that your employees will enjoy coming to work.
4. Check your settings
Positive people can laugh up to 400 times a day. Of course, you can’t mandate that your whole team be in a good mood. But you can make a start by setting an example. A confident demeanour will influence your inner attitude. If you feel in a cheerful mood, you will also come across as more optimistic. This is contagious, and you will improve the moods of people around you. So, try to continue focusing your attention on the positives.
5. Be surprisingly open
Michelle Obama is the coolest, brightest and funniest First Lady that the US has ever had, and surprises readers in her autobiography, Becoming, with the personal revelation that there were days, weeks and months where she hated the world of politics. But the White House was also the place, she writes, “...where Sunny, one of our dogs, sometimes pooped on the rug.” Pretty funny, right?