What is Humor?
Humor plays a vital role to get a person to laugh at his or her situation that seems overwhelming. One cannot truly laugh and still retain anger or hostility. When a person laughs at a joke, he or she agrees with the basic premise of that joke whether it is a one-liner or a short story.
A joke is often a play on words to give a double meaning to a statement. It is seldom that the denotation of the words that are the joke, but the connotation or some informal understanding that makes the humor. Those understanding both the denotation and connotation or informal understanding will laugh if they agree with the joke.
Comedians say they do not create humor, but are just reporting news in a different way. Jay Leno and David Letterman “report the news” to give a different, and humorous look, at situations that otherwise might be trivial. Their success is based on whether the audience laughs. If there is laughter, one agrees with the humor. In a project environment, a person may use humor to “report the facts” of a situation as well.
Winston S. Churchill is known for some of the best subtle humor of the twentieth century. He related how he suggested that one of his senior advisors refresh himself mentally by taking a nap during the day. A twenty-minute nap would rejuvenate a person to the extent that his mental ability would be sharp to address the challenges of World War II. During a subsequent cabinet meeting, Churchill noticed this advisor sleeping soundly and commented, “Perhaps, I have over trained him.”
General Colin L. Powell (US Army retired), former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former US Secretary of State, wrote in his book, My American Journey, that people should not take themselves too seriously. It is a warning that becoming too serious in a situation takes away the ability to think clearly and find the best solution to challenges.
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His ability to reason through many different global issues was aided by his ability to relax under pressure and see the lighter side of life.
One person opined that a true profession has jokes that point at its foibles and makes fun of the way individuals conduct themselves in the work of the profession. Project management will become a recognized profession when jokes are made about the practitioners. The only joke about project management that I can recall is: “What is the difference between a project manager and a used car salesman?” The answer, “The used car salesman always knows when he is lying.”
Humor can change the attitude of individuals and provide a healthy, productive atmosphere when used properly. There are situations that clearly do not lend themselves to humor, such as when there is tragedy or the death of a loved one. Business situations, however, often lend themselves to humor that changes the way a person looks at the environment.
Humor in the Workplace
Humor in the work place can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of a project team when used appropriately and people can laugh at themselves. Humor can be used to defuse tense situations and to suggest correction to behavior that is counter to the team’s goals. Demeaning or vicious humor can, however, destroy the unity of a team and isolate individuals because of perceived criticism.
The Chinese people use humor to criticize people in the work environment. During a professional tour of China, one Chinese man questioned the credentials of a woman in the group because of the manner in which she was conducting herself. He stated, “Her resume says ‘doctor of philosophy,’ I think there is a mistake.” I responded to the statement, “No, she has a Ph.D. in management science.”
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