Laugh Off Your Resolutions
New Year’s resolutions are boring.
Most years, I simply pick something I should already be doing (or not doing) anyway. Eat more kale. Learn Spanish. Stop eating all of my children’s Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day candy in middle of the night. Yes, we all have a dark side…
This year I’m choosing something unexpected. My resolution this year is simply this: laugh.
This light bulb went off while working on an upcoming book for teachers. When writing the section on how to purposely deepen relationships with coworkers, I did an extended session of intensive thinking on what distinguishes truly deep from merely superficial relationships at the office. Thirty seconds later, I realized this:
Every person I feel close to, and not merely share space with, is someone that I laugh with on a regular basis.
So, what would happen if you purposely set out to laugh more with the people working next to you in the salt mines this year? After all, you probably spend more time with them per week than with your own family.
Sure, you could commit to learning better feedback techniques, 4-D chess planning skills, or learn how to listen to your “inner-child” this year. Snore.
If you want to build better relationships this year, set aside the pop-psych and try simply laughing more with your colleagues.
Believe it or not, it’s riskier to laugh with someone than it is to cry with them. For instance, when I’m working with a new group that is just beginning to form, I generally design a range of group activities and “team-builders” with a risk-progression that looks something like this:
basic “get-to-know-you” activities,
personal sharing (non-work related),
working through a “live” conflict, and finally the scariest activity of all…
Really. It's far riskier to act silly, let one’s guard down, and have some basic human fun, than it is to be sad, angry, or cry in the presence of others.
One of my early mentors confided in me that she absolutely hated facilitating games and other “fun-based” teambuilders with staff. She was good at faking it, so you never would have known this by observing her leading these activities. But it was true. She, like many of us, found it easier to confront others, engage conflict, or do tough collective problem solving – than to play a group “game”. However, she knew from experience that laughing together builds community.
Silliness, laughter, and enjoying humor in general requires the relaxing of guards and shedding of masks. In fact, much of humor is based on tearing away falsity and pretension.
If that scares you or makes you feel uncomfortable, you’re probably taking yourself much too seriously – or at least more seriously than anyone else does. You might also be a Boss-zilla or office Puritan in the making. If so, check thyself before thee proverbially wrecks thyself.
Of course, laughing more doesn’t include mocking or laughing at the expense of others. That’s just being an a-hole. Don’t be an a-hole this year. That’s would be a terrible resolution.
I took a course in college on the nature comedy in film. Ironically, this was perhaps the most un-funny experience of my life – dissecting what psychologically makes something humorous. The class was a slog, but the psychological insights were actually pretty fascinating.
One insight was that, at its best, humor works because it requires honesty and produces humility.
For instance, I was an actor during most of high school and college. Some say I never stopped. I played many serious and emotionally intense roles: heroes, villains, and even once sang a solo wearing a kilt! (Come ‘on, I had too. It was Brigadoon after all.)
However, the hardest part I ever played was a primary comic relief character, Lenny, in the Neil Simon play, Rumors. I did a reasonably competent job, but man… making people laugh is a far tougher job than making them cry.
It was also much more frightening as an actor. Failing to make an audience cry is one thing. But fail to make them laugh? Hearing nothing but crickets after an obvious punchline? Yikes. It’s an excruciating experience and a masterclass in humility. I’ll take a kilt and a cliched ballad any day of the week.
In my work mentoring leaders, stress, burnout, and managing all of the sundry ailments and compulsions that accompany a-type personalities are frequent topics of discussion. The stress and responsibilities of leadership can leave one feeling alone and isolated, even for those who are constantly surrounded by other people.
Feeling alone leads to self-absorption. Self-absorption makes leaders take themselves much too seriously. Laughing humbles the proud and uplifts the downcast. It cracks shells and breaks down silos. It helps to bring you back into relationship with others.
After all, the primary role of the court jester was to make fun of the king and queen. Their job was to remind their royal majesties that at the end of the day, a crown is just a piece of metal, a throne is just a grandiose chair, and all glory is fleeting. This was probably the hardest (and most dangerous) job in the realm. Get it right and everyone feels a little closer and more human. Get it wrong and people could lose their heads. Literally. Now that’s a tough audience.
If you’re the one in the purple robe, start by being willing to poke fun at yourself. Purposely find new ways to share a laugh with new people. Play a game as part of teambuilding. Make time to be silly and have fun together – whatever that looks like in your little office tribe.
We are cordial with most people. We cry with some people. We are silly and truly laugh with a select few. When we laugh, we set aside the crown and let others know that we are all fools at heart – and that’s a good thing.
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