Consider this an “unrestraining order” from the court of Terry Braverman: Today we are all afflicted to some degree with S.D.S. (Spontaneity Deficiency Syndrome). It is appalling in our society how much we miss enlivening opportunities by censoring our own spontaneity. “Well, I’m trying to find time to be spontaneous,” a harried business acquaintance once muttered. Indigenous tribal people tend to release their pent-up emotions through singing, dancing, chanting, and wearing wild costumes. How many of us would feel comfortable doing that in front of our families?
We have largely suppressed or forgotten spontaneity in the maze of our busyness, our plans, our rational thinking, and our control mechanisms. S.D.S. is a major cause of stress in our world. When we are in a lot of physical pain it takes some strong medicine to get relief. If the pain is emotional, we often need a strong jolt to regain our perspective. A dose of silly nonsense may just do the trick.
One time I was on the phone with a rep from a customer service department to lodge a complaint. My frustration was growing and I decided to vent by singing my complaint in an operatic voice. The rep was laughing hysterically and said, “Wait, I’m putting my supervisor on the line!” I continued to sing and the supervisor resolved my issue immediately in the spirit of fun established, as opposed to tension and conflict.
I cringe when I see people being scolded for acting too silly. Of course there are situations that demand an overall serious tone, but more often than not it’s the “grow up and get serious” parental mentality at work, stifling the natural stress relief of playful expression. It will amaze you to know that the word silly comes from the Old English word saelig, which was a blessing. It meant “to be happy, prosperous and wise.” On the other hand, adult comes from the word adulterate, meaning “to corrupt, debase, or make impure.”
Some claim variety to be the spice of life…I say it’s spontaneity.
Summer is here, and the time is right to commune with family and friends over lavish meals, aided and abetted by healthy gales of laughter.
The positive impact that laughter has on our well-being is nothing new. Throughout history, clowns, fools and court jesters plied their trade not only to entertain, but to heal people, impart wisdom, and exercise diplomacy, acting as ambassadors to other kingdoms for building goodwill and defusing conflict. The court jesters pranced around the imperial courts with a patented blend of whim and wit. It was their privilege to say whatever they wished. Usually a great ruler was surrounded by flatterers, and only from the jester did he ever hear the truth.
The jester’s business was to tickle the royal funny bone, divert the king from the tedium of his daily affairs, and serve a slightly skewed yet enlightening perspective on those affairs of the court. Jesters also assisted his Majesty’s digestion, rubbing the regal tummy the right way with their lively presence at the dining table. “Laughter is one of the most important aids to digestion with which we are acquainted,” said the Prussian professor Hufeland. “The custom in vogue among our ancestors, of inciting laughter by jesters and buffoons, was founded on true medical principles. Cheerful and joyous companions are invaluable at meals; obtain such, if possible, for the nourishment received amid mirth is productive of light and healthy blood.”
Excerpt from the book, “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Lighten Up!”
c 2013 All Rights Reserved
Mental Floss Publications
Several years ago I was hired to lift the morale of bank tellers at a savings & loan. They were having a difficult time dealing with rude customers, and looked like a group of doleful-eyed, droopy-eared Beagles in need of a nourishing bowl of food. I told them there is nothing they could do about their customers’ attitudes until they shifted their own attitude from one of frustration to fun. Like Beagles that just heard an eerie sound, their heads collectively turned sideways.
At the end of their workday on a Friday, I asked them to gather around in a circle and reveal their worst customer of the week experience to the branch managers and me. There were loud howls of laughter in the room! The managers and I then conferred a reward to the teller with the best “Worst Customer of the Week” story: A customer apparently took out a can of underarm deodorant from her handbag and sprayed the teller’s window, screaming, “This place stinks!” The reward was a gift certificate to a fine restaurant. The following Friday, it was a bottle of champagne (which proved to be quite popular).
The tellers felt supported for enduring difficult customer situations, and morale skyrocketed. Now they were seeking out the rude customers: “Excuse me, sir, you look like you may be having a tough day…come forward. I’ll help you out.” With this unexpected response, rude customers suddenly became more civil. The good will snowballed as customers were telling their family, friends and work associates about the unusual attentiveness they were receiving at their bank. As a result, the bank had a surprising jump in new customers. It was a win-win-win situation. Can you adopt this approach of rewarding someone for enduring a difficult work experience at your weekly staff meetings?
Excerpt from “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Lighten Up!”
c 2013 Terry Braverman
Mental Floss Publications
All Rights Reserved
If your head seems to be stuffed up with clutter and uncertainty, it’s time to stop what you’re doing, regroup, and either find a quiet place for yourself or solicit feedback from others to regain clarity. We all “hit the wall” from time to time, but it is essential to be conscious of those times and take appropriate steps to clear our heads.
Recently I was the luncheon keynote speaker at an annual conference. Leading up to the introduction as the speaker there are many things going on in my mind—setting up my back of the room products table, remembering to give my typed intro to the person introducing me, putting a glass of water on the podium box, loading the Powerpoint part of my presentation onto the laptop and testing it, testing the sound system in the room, checking the lighting, tweaking parts of my presentation, etc., etc. Something about the room logistically didn’t seem right, but with so many thoughts pinballing around in my brain I had to leave the room and find space to clear my head and determine what was awry.
The room I was to speak in was somewhat long and narrow, which meant that people in the back would feel more remote from the “action,” e.g., exercises I planned for the group. I asked the audio-visual and logistics people if we could move my stage area so I would be more central in the room and therefore closer to everyone. It took some rearranging of tables and running power cables, but it worked like a charm!
Effectiveness in negotiations can require Herculean patience and discipline. A sense of humor doesn’t hurt either…
“In the Presence of Humor,” a book by Cy Eberhart, has a story about a contentious management-labor contract meeting: “…One of the management negotiators (felt the tensions rising) when they broke for lunch. Upon leaving the conference room he was handed an urgent message to call home. He called his wife and tensed up when he heard her distraught voice, but then relaxed in amusement when she described her concern. The school principal wanted to meet with her about an incident regarding their son, and she was upset over what might happen. Their son had allegedly heaved a water balloon towards a group of girls standing outside the school. He told his wife over the phone that nothing terrible would happen, and offered her some suggestions on how to handle the meeting with the principal.
Returning from the lunch break, he was still amused by the incident. He appeared even more detached from the intensity of the negotiations. The others, alert to his behavior, wanted an explanation. He said it was just a personal matter that had nothing to do with the negotiations, but they insisted on knowing what was going on, so he told them. They all laughed and got back to business.
The seemingly impossible then occurred—with an ease and quickness that startled him, they found areas of agreement and made remarkable progress. Before lunch, he was an enemy ‘on the other side’. In telling his story, the others understood because they were husbands and fathers too. When negotiations resumed, they came from a solid place of commonality rather than differences.”
Are your company meetings a source of inspiration, or perspiration? A shared laugh can kick off a meeting on a positive note by breaking tension, promoting teamwork, sparking creativity, and opening up a greater possibility for agreements. It could be in the form of a joke, story, cartoon, or an exercise. According to Dr. Kenneth Pelletier, there are only two human activities that create total brain symmetry, i.e. completely connect the brain’s left side (logical side) with the right side (creative side). Those two activities are – laughter, and sex. Since you’re not likely to start your meeting with sex, why not commence with mirth and laughter?
An injection of humor at staff meetings can also be used to effectively make a point. In the mid-1970s, the Ford Motor Company went through a period where the accountants took over and influenced the closure of manufacturing plants left and right in order to cut costs. They had already succeeded in shutting down facilities in Massachusetts and Texas, and were clearly relishing their emerging power. Robert McNamara, who was president at the time, called a meeting of his top executives to discuss the possible closure of yet another plant. The forecast from the accountants was so grim that nobody would dare speak up, except for a cheeky old veteran named Charlie Beacham, who quipped, “why don’t we close down all the plants, then we’ll really start saving money.” They all roared with laughter, and the decision was made to postpone any more closings. Charlie’s satirical comment put the company’s state of affairs into perspective, and the bean counters went back to working for the company instead of running it.
David Lewis, a Los Angeles attorney, shared an experience with me of defusing a tense moment with humor. He was in negotiations for the purchase of a large office building, and it was going on night and day, very hard. “One night it came to one of those tense moments when two of the men on opposite sides of the table were arguing about the height requirement for the urinals in the men’s room. One of them was insisting it was 30 inches, while the other was screaming, ‘No, it’s 36 inches!’ They were heaving verbal grenades back and forth, when I interrupted and said, ‘Gentlemen, I think we’re in danger of getting into a pissing contest.’ They began laughing uncontrollably. It broke the tension and really did resolve the whole situation. They realized that it didn’t make any difference anyway.”
There are times when it’s inappropriate to inject humor at a meeting. You can still access it without saying a word, via visualization. One time I was about to lock horns with a rabid meeting planner over contract issues. I decided to visualize the person wearing purple polka dot boxer shorts as the negotiations ensued. This allowed me to relax and detach from the tempestuous personality of the other person. In fact, my calmer demeanor made him calmer, and I ended up getting almost everything I had asked; with it came the realization that humor allows me to be patient, before I become a patient.
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Excerpt from the Amazon best selling book,
“When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Lighten Up!”
by Terry Braverman
© 2012 All Rights Reserved