Most humor in the business setting is unplanned. It just happens. Spontaneous events with clients and co-workers create the surprises and uncomfortable situations which call for humor as a coping tool.
We all have differing abilities to recognize, appreciate and create humor. How's your HQ (humor quotient)? Do you work with people who are full of wit?
Regardless of where you are now, you can increase your humor skills. When you study humor, it's obvious there's more to it than just spontaneous laughs. There are times when you may want to deliberately use humor, maybe even plan it in advance.
Perhaps you want to spice up a training session or a planning meeting. Maybe you want to lighten up a sales presentation. You can learn ways to administer a dose of laughter to help you connect and communicate.
There are three elements which can help you understand and structure your humor: surprise, tension and relationships.
First, humor is based on the element of surprise. Humor often comes from something as simple as someone saying the unexpected. The surprise twist creates the humor.
Because of the element of surprise, when we are deliberately structuring a piece of humor (perhaps for a speech) we don't want to telegraph the joke. A line like, "a funny thing happened to me on the way over here," signals your listeners that a joke is coming. This will lessen the element of surprise.
To enhance the surprise, it's best to place the punch line at the end of the joke. And within the punch line, the punch word is usually given last. The punch word is the word that makes the humor work. It's the trigger that releases the surprise.
If your humor falls flat, do what professional humorists do. Pretend you are serious. Since the listeners didn't realize you were making a joke, you never need to apologize or explain it. Turn your surprise into a secret.
It's no surprise to people who work in pressure-packed work environments that humor is also based on this second principle: release of tension. Laughter is a pressure valve which releases muscle tension. Uncomfortable situations, fear and pain are all tension builders that cry out for humor. We find ourselves laughing at risqué humor and embarrassing situations because they make us uncomfortable. We release the tension they create with humor.
People who intentionally and frequently use humor know tension can be used deliberately to heighten the impact of the humor. A pause placed just before the punch line or the punch word builds a sense of anticipation, a form of tension, which makes the joke stronger.
In most jobs, daily challenges give you the opportunity to purposely use tension in setting up your humor. Simply by sharing a real life humorous situation, you can recreate the spontaneous circumstances which generated the laughter in the first place. Although there's nothing like "being there," you can improve on the actual event by embellishing to create a little more tension in the set up. You can structure the punch line for maximum effect by putting the punch word last. And you can pause to add impact.
As we plan our humor, we also notice that the third principle of humor is relationships. Most humor is based on how things are related and not related. We can create humorous twists when we play with relationships.
Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons are well known for twisting relationships. One of his frequent tools is giving animals human characteristics. For example, the cartoon shows a car driving down the road. Driving the car is a bull. Sitting next to the bull is a cow. And in the back seat is a calf. They're driving past a field with humans standing in the pasture. The picture, by itself, creates a funny picture by twisting the normally expected relationships. The calf sticks his head out of the car window and says "Yakity, Yakity, Yak!"
Understanding the principle of relationships, you are able to create your own, original humor. You can create "shopping lists" from which you search for humorous connections.
Let's say you had an idea for building some humor. We'll call this idea a seed from which the humor can grow. Perhaps, on a difficult shift at a hospital, someone made a comment that working in a hospital was like working in a war zone. This is the starting point for developing some humor.
You'll begin by creating two "shopping lists." On one list you'll put "hospital things." And on the other, you'll list "military things." It will work better if you choose "military" rather than "war zone" because it's a broader category which will give you more options when looking for relationships.
Your first step is to brainstorm by making the lists as long a possible. The more items you have on each list, the more likely you'll be able to make some humorous connections.
As you make your lists, you'll look for opportunities to branch out and create sublists to multiply your chances of finding humor. For example, if the idea "basic training" comes to mind, your sublist should contain everything you can think of relating to basic training: drill sergeants, marching, inspections.
The next step is to search for connections between your two lists which might lead you to humor. Play with it. Then set it aside and come back to it later. Once you find something with humorous possibilities, you'll massage it to maximize the humor impact.
To see what this exercise might produce:
"Why a Hospital is Like the Military."
1. In the military, soldiers take orders from people with silver and gold on their shoulders. In a hospital, nurses take orders from people with silver and gold in their wallets.
2. When discharged from the hospital after a Lower GI Series, you get the GI bill.
3.,Nurses, like soldiers, see a lot of privates.
4.mWhen filling out a hospital shift report, you sometimes resort to the policy of "Don't ask, don't tell."
5. Nurse training is like boot camp. Never before had you seen so many bald body parts.
6. In the military, a fatigue is what you wear. In nursing, it's what wears on you.
7. Soldiers get combat pay. Nurses don't...but should.
Whether you're creating a list or a slogan to go on a poster, looking for a monologue to open a speech or training session, or just searching for one joke to make a point, you can use these lists to create your humor. It works.
These three principles of humor are illustrated by the classic slip on the banana peel. The slapstick spill illustrates surprise because we weren't expecting someone to fall. We also experience tension. When we see someone get hurt we get startled, and react with tension. It also twists relationships. Seeing a distinguished person sitting on the sidewalk is something our of the ordinary. Surprise, tension, relationships...we laugh!
Natural, spontaneous humor is one of your greatest tools for coping with stress as you work. By understanding what makes the humor tick, you can become better at planning and deliberately using this powerful adjunct to your success arsenal.