You've Got to Be Kidding: Humor as a Fundamental Management Tool

Article excerpt

When her popular television sitcom ended its seven-year tenure as one of the best-loved TV shows on the planet, reporters asked actress Mary Tyler Moore if she could name her very favorite episode from her show's long and successful run. Without a moment's hesitation she answered, "Chuckles Bites the Dust." For those of you who may not remember, the premise revolved around the mythical TV station's on-air personality and kiddie-show host "Chuckles, the Clown" and his most unfortunate demise. Poor Chuckles had made the mistake of dressing as a giant peanut for a downtown Minneapolis parade and was (yucch!) stomped to death by an over-zealous and, no-doubt, ravenous elephant. Mary's co-workers were, of course, upset at the loss of their comrade, but as the day progressed they couldn't help making a few snide and, of course, hilarious references as to the unusual manner in which the hapless Chuckle's met his end. Everyone got into the act - that is, all but Mary who couldn't understand how her office mates could have found any humor at all in such a tragic happenstance. But the next day at the memorial service for their fallen colleague, while Lou, Murray and Ted maintained their composure in the dignified surroundings, it was Mary who totally lost all composure. What started as a quiet, muffled giggle turned into unbridled hysterical laughter as the usually dignified, demure Mary struggled in vain to control herself. The sympathetic minister, seeing her plight, consoled Mary and reminded her that Chuckles himself would have wanted it that way. He was someone who had spent his entire adult life trying to make people laugh and would probably be pleased with her outburst. Then the minister reminded Mary and everyone else assembled that Chuckle's philosophy was a simple one; that life was just "a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down the pants." And that, my friends, is the only way to look at life and the world around us.

BUT IN THE WORKPLACE?

Of course, in the workplace. What better place? Most of us have been conditioned - by teachers, mentors, peers and superiors - that the workplace is somehow sacrosanct. It is a place where important, often serious, business is conducted. A place where empires are built. A place where profits are made. A place where careers are carved and often destroyed. "Yada, yada, yada" ...we get the picture. But it is also a place where human beings - fallible ones - spend a good portion of their waking hours. It is a place where much time is spent in tedium, in conflict, in challenge, in fear and in accomplishment. Now, can you think of a better place for a sense of humor?

JUST WHAT IS A SENSE OF HUMOR?

A sense of humor is nothing more than a different perspective, a more positive spin on things. The following story illustrates this beautifully. An American was writing a book on French idioms - phrases that cannot be translated directly and often mean something other than their literal meaning, such as "to catch his eye." He was particularly vexed with the correct translation of the phrase savoire faire. At a cocktail party in Paris, be happened upon three French businessmen conversing in a corner of the room. He approached them, explained the purpose for his visit to France and asked each of them what they thought "savoire faire" really meant. The first one said, "Suppose I come home from work early one afternoon and find my wife in a liaison with another man. I would say to them 'Excuse me.' That would be savoire faire." "I somewhat agree," said the second man, "but I would say to them, 'Excuse me, please continue.' That would show real savoire faire." Finally, the third man, with an amused smile on his face, spoke up and said, "I have a totally different perspective than you do. I would say to them, 'Excuse me, please continue.' If they did, they would have savoire faire!" And that, in a nutshell, is the definition of a sense of humor - a uniquely positive perspective on all that goes on around us - good, bad or indifferent. …