Imagine you are on a plane that has just landed in Chile, South America. Your heart is thumping, and your anxiety level is high. You are visiting a chemical plant to evaluate its safety programs. You do not speak Spanish, the engineers you are meeting speak broken English, you are there as a safety auditor, and you are from the corporate office. That was me 7 years ago.
When I arrived at the chemical plant, I met up with the plant manager and his engineering staff and tension was noticeably high. That first night I was taken out for dinner, and Carlos the plant manager asked me in broken English if I would like to try the local drink. Having travelled to 75 countries in my life and having grown a fascination of trying local food and drink, I answered, “Sure”. At the table, the waiter squeezed fresh lemons, mixed in an abundance of sugar, and then added a copious amount of crystal clear alcohol. It was like the best lemonade I had ever tasted!
The next morning he asked me what I had thought of the drink. I replied, “Carlos – by the end of the night I could speak fluent Spanish, and when I went to bed at the hotel there was a dog barking in the distance – I could understand what she was saying too”. He laughed, and I felt the tension dissipate in the room.
At the end of the week as I waited for the plane to take off, I had a sense of fulfillment. My visit with the engineers had been positive, respectful, and most important, it had been fun.
What can we learn from this?
If you were to ask me what character trait has been the one to help me succeed in my career I would answer that it would be my sense of humor. When you are interacting with people there are going to be occasions when tension rears its ugly head. How you deal with that tension can determine your success. When tension in the workplace is not managed correctly, there can be a gradual erosion of respect and trust amongst employees, as well as other destructive mechanisms such as:
• Energy levels and creativity are sucked out of the workplace
• Teams that are not cohesive become inefficient and unproductive
• A culture of “doing the minimum” is created
• Increased turnover of valued employees
• Loss of profits
• Deadlines get missed
• Stressed worker are more likely to call in sick
Derailing Tension With Humor – 10 Things Employees of Exceptional Workplaces Will Tell You:
1. We have a culture where employees have a sense of playfulness with each other
2. The sense of levity is evident – from executive management to front-line workers
3. Confrontational meetings have adversaries making fun of each other respectfully
4. A sense of humor is considered a core competency
5. The hiring process includes evaluating the candidates sense of humor
6. Its common to hear people laughing in the workplace
7. I can bring my sense of humor to work and still be respected
8. We have a lot of celebrations for special events where people can “be themselves”
9. Brainstorming sessions are upbeat and fun to maximize the creative process.
10. Humor is always respectful, appropriate for the occasion, and balanced.
This is what my boss wrote about me in a performance review several years ago:
“Dave is a master of using his sense of humor to diffuse tension. When he is around, the atmosphere becomes more friendly and cooperative. He always sees the humor in things, helping to avoid or defuse difficult situations”.
I work hard, I play hard, and I most certainly have fun with both!