Facilitator Journal | Issue #0485, April 20, 2011
I hope you don't mind being accused of having too much fun in your
work. For as group workers, most of us would probably agree that when
we're facilitating, training, or coaching, there's little else we'd
rather be doing. This week's article, A Funny Thing
Happened on the Way to My Meeting, explores
the impact of lightheartedness, playfulness, and laughter on group effectiveness.
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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Meeting
humor to enhance group effectiveness
Group Process Skill
How often to you hear statements like these:
"They can't be getting any work done over there, they're always laughing."
"We don't have time for play right now, we've got work to do!"
"They're having just too much fun."
Tell me, how
can anyone have too much fun? Personally, I
don't see all that many people having much fun at all anymore. Especially
in the work environment. But of course not. Why
should they? We all know that having fun just doesn't mesh with getting
work done. Now those of us who are even halfway awake know the fallacy
of this statement, yet it is still firmly planted in the fabric of our
culture. Is it not?
Most of us know that lightheartedness, playfulness, and laughter makes
us feel more creative and enthusiastic. We also know that creativity and
enthusiasm are qualities highly treasured in progressive workplaces. Perhaps
"progressive" is the key word here. So let's be progressive.
Let's look at how humor and play are good for our success in work groups.
Humor With Groups. The following tips on the use of humor in
groups were adapted from a book by the 3M Meeting Management Team, "Mastering
Meetings: Discovering the Hidden Potential of Effective Business Meetings."
When all else fails, lighten up. Injecting a little humor may
be all that's needed to lift a group out of a rut when they get stuck,
help put them at ease in times of stress, make bad news easier to accept,
or to introduce a sensitive subject. Here's an example.
Shortly after the
breakup of AT&T, the company fielded questions about the consequences
of reorganization. A frequent hostile question from the audiences was,
"Why are long-distance rates going up?" One speaker gave this
reply: "It's sort of a good news-bad news situation. It's true
that long-distance rates are going up--that's the bad news. The good
news is, the continents are drifting closer together."
laughing to speed up their process. Humor is avoided in your
typical business meetings because many managers believe that it simply
wastes time. Humor consultant, Malcolm Kushner suggests the opposite.
"The real objective of meetings is to exchange information or solve
a problem. If humor contributes to a free flow of information, then it
can actually speed things up."
Humor is a rich source of productivity. Studies have
shown that people with a sense of humor "tend to be more creative,
less rigid, and more willing to consider and embrace new ideas,"
says Kushner. Think about it. Humor occurs naturally during brainstorming
sessions. Brainstorming and problem-solving "require a fresh perspective,
looking at things from an offbeat angle. So does humor."
You don't have to leave them in stitches. According to
Michael Iapoce, another humor consultant, you don't have to be a comedian
to use humor in meetings and groups. "Only professional comics need
to get big laughs. If you can get people in a meeting to chuckle, they're
grateful. And if your joke or one-liner doesn't get a laugh, just ignore
Make it relevant. Your humor should be relevant to the
situation at hand. Telling a joke or funny story just to get a laugh isn't
usually in the best interest of the group. Here's an example: When David
Kearns, then Chairman and CEO of Xerox Corporation, spoke at a management
conference at the University of Chicago in 1986, he began this way:
There's a story
about a Frenchman, a Japanese, and an American who face a firing squad.
Each gets one last request. The Frenchman asks to hear The Marseillaise.
The Japanese asks to give a lecture on the art of management. The American
says, "Shoot me first--I can't stand one more lecture on Japanese
Kearns went on to
say he was not going to speak about Japanese management, but about what
Japan might learn from America.
Keep it tasteful. Of course you must refrain from any
humor that might in the slightest way be offensive to your particular
audience. "Sometimes people are not sure whether a joke is appropriate
for a certain group, but they tell it anyway," says Krushner. "That's
like saying, 'I'm not sure if this gun is loaded, but I'll fire it anyway,"
Rule of thumb: When in doubt, leave it out.
Know your audience. Different groups may respond to various
types of humor in radically different ways. It's important that you know
enough about your groups so that you can be sensitive to how they may
respond to the content of your humor. One 3M manager recalls the following
I spent a great
deal of my career in Minnesota and surrounding areas, and people would
pick up the Texas inflection in my voice. When I was doing a speech
to any large group I could make a joke about Texans or Texas accents
as a little opener to warm up, give them a feel for my personality,
and a little bit of my background. And it always went really well.
I made a speech in Dallas once to about 600 people with the same opening,
and I died. I could not recover....That was one of those things you
have to learn the hard way.
personality inside out. In closing, I wanted to share that in
my own humble experience, I've often inspired the greatest laughter when
I least expected it. On these occasions, I believe the secret was that
I was just being myself and sharing what I was thinking or feeling in
the moment. Authenticity not only brings freshness and lightness to your
groups, it can also bring a great deal of humor as well.
Add Your Comments
a humor tip or two to try out with your groups or in your meetings this
week. Click on Add Your Comments and let us know how it turns out. Or simply share your questions, feedback, or experience on this topic.
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