Humor and Optimism

There’s a perception I think that having a healthy sense of humor is sometimes associated with blind optimism.  And similarly, some people view the idea of bringing more humor into the workplace as being about creating a utopian work environment where people blindly smile all day long, colleagues clasp hands and belt out a rousing rendition of “We Are the World”  and everyone plays nice. All the time. 24/7.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Bringing humor into the workplace isn’t about fake enthusiasm or phony passion.

It’s not about blindly smiling at each other like zombies or about putting on rose-colored glasses.

You are always going to have stress at work. The only way to get rid of stress in the workplace, or in your life, is through death. Not my preferred career path and hopefully not yours either!

And there’s always going to be conflict at work. In fact, there better be some conflict at work if your truly want to act on the best ideas and not simply fall into a dangerous, semi-comatose form of group think.  One of my definitions of a dysfunctional team is actually the absence of conflict!  If there’s no conflict then there’s a good chance that ideas aren’t being properly debated and that senior managers aren’t being challenged and/or being told the truth when they need to hear it!

Nor does having a sense of humor turn you into a blind optimist.  Sure, it might help you be more positive,  but again there’s a danger in being too optimistic. Consider this: would you prefer to know that your brain surgeon or airline pilot is a blind optimist, or would you rather believe they are positive realists who have explored all the downsides and the possibilities of things going horribly wrong?

All I’m saying is let’s be realistic about what a sense of humor can and should do for us in the workplace. Yes, humor can definitely help people reduce their level of stress, manage the challenges and uncertainty associated with change, reduce some types of conflicts and help us stay more positive, but it’s not a silver bullet that will transform your workplace simply by plastering smiley faces all over the office.

Especially if those smiley faces are fake masks plastered onto everyone’s face.

Copyright Michael Kerr,  2011,  www.mikekerr.com

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