I love the kind of laughter that creeps up on you and erupts in a moment when you absolutely should not laugh.
Like when you’re ten years old, sitting in church and watching a person across the aisle nodding off, slowly slumping sideways – and suddenly their glasses slip off their nose. The abrupt waking up, the scramble to catch the glasses, and the attempt to make it all look very dignified… that’s just hilarious. (It happened to a friend. Wink wink.)
Seriously though, bursting into uncontrollable laughter is one of my favorite things. I love laughing until my face hurts and tears stream down my face – the kind of laughter that renders you incapable of doing anything but laugh. I mean, who doesn’t like that?
The Spit Take
Early in my career as a membership consultant at a health and fitness group, I attended an awards function. It was a morning event and, while waiting to enter the venue, we stood around, drank coffee, and chatted.
A few of us were standing in a circle when my colleague, Herman, began telling a joke. One sentence into the joke, the CEO joined our group and stood opposite me. As I took a sip of my coffee, Herman delivered the punchline – and it was truly hilarious.
I instantly did a “spit take.” In other words, I spewed coffee all over myself, the CEO, and everybody within striking distance. To make matters worse, I laugh-snorted, and with coffee streaming out my nose and tears running down my cheeks I tried to apologize.
This, of course, was drowned out by the raucous laughter coming out of doubled-over bodies in our little circle and from everybody around us!
We tried to clean up as best we could, but minutes later I appeared on stage to receive an award from the CEO. (Yes, the same one I’d just baptized with coffee.) He was very generous about the whole thing. After handing over my award, he pointed to our coffee-stained clothes and quipped, “Yes, we were together – and the evidence shows that we had our clothes on.” Laughter seeped into every corner of that room – and pretty much the rest of the function.
From that day, when one of my colleagues started telling a joke, someone would invariably ask, “Where’s Yolande?” or, “Is she busy drinking?”
Mind Tools coach Mike Barzacchini remembers a hilarious career moment that led to an office tradition.
“I once arrived at work with mismatched shoes. One brown. One black. Instead of dismay, I turned this into our first office mismatch day! Of course, when asked about my clashing shoes, I responded, ‘What do you mean? I have another pair at home just like them!'”
Mike’s wife, Susan, once hired a singing clown and a person in a chicken suit for a surprise birthday serenade in his office while his team looked on. The singing of “Happy Birthday” concluded with the chicken cracking a confetti-filled plastic egg on his head. He said that the entire office loved his birthday surprise and they laughed about it for weeks.
He says there’s a moral to both stories: “Being the punchline of the joke, especially if you’re the manager, can boost morale, lighten the mood, and bring the laughs. Don’t fear the funny!”
Recruitment Gone Wrong
In her early HR career, Sarah Harvey was responsible for administering a busy recruitment process.
“One day I was on an interview panel with two very serious engineers,” Sarah remembers. “I collected the interviewee, Joe, from reception, chatting to him informally before showing him to the room and introducing him to the panel.
“The interview started with an introductory chat around his application and CV, and questions about his current job. As the questions and answers continued, the panel began to look more and more confused. The answers given seemed very odd compared to the information on the CV.
“As things progressed, it became clear that the person in front of us didn’t have the experience or skills for the role we were recruiting for. I started to feel a bit sick and uncomfortable as it dawned on me what must have happened.
“Eventually the Chair of the panel interrupted the interview and said something like, ‘Can I just check, your name is Joe Bloggs? And you’ve come for the role of Highways Superintendent?’
“Silence and confused looks from everyone. ‘No’ said the interviewee. ‘My name is Joe Smith and I’ve applied for the role of Accounts Assistant.’ Oh heck! I’d only muddled up two recruitment processes and invited the wrong Joe to the wrong interview!
“As a young, inexperienced but ambitious HR Assistant, I couldn’t have been more grateful for the way everyone took this news. Thankfully, everyone laughed. Of course, I apologized profusely for my mistake. There was no real harm done, apart from my damaged pride and a wasted half hour interviewing someone for a job they shouldn’t have been invited to.
“All’s well that ends well. The right people got invited to the right interviews in the end. My relationships with the two managers were intact, and I went on to work with them successfully for many years – and we had many more laughs along the way. However, I never invited the wrong person to an interview ever again!”
Beware the Bear Lady
Another of our coaches, Zala Bricelj, recounts a funny story from her past career as an English teacher.
“At the start of my career, I worked for a program that facilitated English lessons for kindergarten children aged three to six.
“In my first week, I traveled around with a huge teddy bear that was the size of a small child. It was my childhood teddy bear and a gift from my late grandmother.
“In one of the kindergartens, a child was talking to his parents in the hall when he pointed to me and said, ‘Look, that’s our English teacher!’ The parents looked at him and me and asked, ‘What’s her name?’ The boy stopped, looked a bit confused and embarrassed, and then finally said, in a low voice, ‘It’s the Bear Lady.’
“We all laughed out loud, and I quickly introduced myself to the confused-looking parents, explaining that I’d brought a big teddy bear to their son’s class.
“Over the years, I often thought back to that moment when the going got tough. The experience taught me how impressionable children are, how much small details mean to them, and how interestingly their minds work! It was definitely a year full of laughter and learning for me (and them).”
Hilarious Career Moments
Early in my career, one of my managers often said that a person who learns to laugh at themselves will never cease to have a source of entertainment.
During Friday’s #MTtalk Twitter chat, we share funny career moments, when it's okay to use humor and what your funny career moments taught you. Here are all the questions we asked, and some of the best responses:
Q1. How does humor/laughter benefit us in life?
@ColfaxInsurance Humor and laughter are great healing tools, they keep our spirits up in hard times, and are almost an instantaneous fix to a bad mood.
@J_Stephens_CPA Laughter is the best medicine. It has physical impacts to our body to improve health.
Q2. How can humor and laughter improve the workplace?
@WonderPix Humor and laughter make our work days, projects, and interactions more human and enjoyable. Within context and appropriate, of course.
@_GT_Coaching Perhaps by helping to build relationships.
Q3. What's the funniest thing that's ever happened in your career?
@SarahH_MT I've had so many fun times with colleagues; From Christmas fancy dress and office Karaoke with top management on Christmas Eve through to crying with laughter over something ridiculous someone said by mistake; precious moments of fun and laughter. Just priceless!
@ColfaxInsurance I have a feeling (call it dread maybe) that the funniest moment is yet to come in my career. I have witnessed other funny things with co-workers and have done my best to be a shadow in the humor department because I am shy and embarrass easily.
@WonderPix Interesting how time changes how we see/remember 'funny' career moments (may not have seemed so at the time, but now are 🙂
Q4. What was positive and what wasn't about your funniest career moment?
@Yolande_MT I can look very serious at work, so it has made me look more human to others. It has also taught me never to get a big head over anything - the universe has a way of showing you that you're not that important.
@SarahH_MT Positives - having fun with colleagues, getting to know what makes people 'tick', connecting as humans rather than roles, getting to know people who you otherwise wouldn't interact much with. No negatives for me personally, although people can become too familiar!
Q5. How could a hilarious career moment go wrong?
@_GT_Coaching Someone experiences the joke differently than the intended meaning and doesn't find it funny.
@Yolande_MT A funny career moment could go wrong if it is later used against you in some way.
Q6. What are the potential dangers of using humor in the workplace?
@DreaVilleneuve When they don’t get the joke.
@J_Stephens_CPA While many will try to avoid offending others, some repeat offensive jokes. In other cases, no offense may have been intended, but it still may offend someone.
Q7. How do you determine if humor is appropriate for a particular situation?
@Midgie_MT Knowing the people around you when using humor. For some people, your humor is NOT their humor. Humor should never be at the expense of another.
@ColfaxInsurance Take into account the context, the humor you plan to use, and the people you plan to express it with - will it be seen as acceptable? Will it be offensive? Is it even appropriate?
Q8. What can you do to stop humor tipping into childish or bullying behavior?
@SoniaH_MT To stop humor from tipping into childish or #bullying behavior, we can remember the different personalities of our audience/colleagues and just stand ready to shut it down (politely).
@_GT_Coaching Practice awareness to build up an understanding of how others feel.
Q9. What's one lesson from your humorous career/workplace experiences that you'd like to share?
@ZalaB_MT I think I learned that humor can be connecting people or diving people - it all depends on the situation & how it's delivered. I've become truly mindful of not "laughing along" when I see that it might hurt somebody or that it is ill-intentioned. That's a line I won't cross.
@SoniaH_MT As someone who was rarely the office joke-teller or prankster, my lesson is to continue reading the room. Sometimes humor will work but if the timing is off, it can bomb.
Q10. How can you help yourself and others share positive humor at work?
@Dwyka_Consult Your workplace culture will definitely allow/accept certain humor and not accept other humor. Remember, some people never find anything funny and nothing is PC enough - ever. Don't let them steal your joy.
@MikeB_MT Start a meeting with a funny icebreaker. Find the funny in a project that didn't go well. Begin to build a team culture where it's OK to share healthy humor and laughter.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat.
Humour at Work Resources
Note that you will need to be a Mind Tools Club or Corporate member to see all of the resources in full.
Humor in the Workplace
Working in an Emotionally Demanding Role
Making Work Fun
Dealing With Angry People
Improving Group Dynamics
Emoji Meanings at Work
Coming Up: Planning Your Pause
The holiday season is one that you should certainly approach with a big dose of humor and laughter because it can be a stressful time. Next time on #MTtalk we're going to chat about planning your pause and the highs and lows of the holiday season.
In our Twitter poll this week we’d like to know what you think is the most important thing to keep in mind when planning a holiday.