Let a smile be your umbrella in the office, says humorist Art Gliner, because you never know when it will rain.
Humor can help you to cope, be more creative and communicate better, advises the professional joker from Silver Spring, who earns his living by lecturing on the virtues of funny business as good business.
"Humor helps to cut the tension and stress. People who relax and have less tension tend to be more productive," said Mr. Gliner, a former radio-TV broadcaster who runs the Humor Communication Co. consulting firm.
A couple of dozen secretaries, who've seen their share of downpours at work, chuckled their way through his short course last week at Essex Community College, urged on by a recorded laugh track and a large cue card reminding them to respond, "Ha Ha."
Look, he explained to the audience, if you laugh at my story, it's supposed to be a joke. If you don't, it's just an example of illustrative humor. But seriously, folks.
Taking a laughter break on the job can help you to work better, and feel better, Mr. Gliner urged. "Laughter also makes you want to come to work."
Humor in the office can be an effective tool for everyone, he said. It's a skill that can be learned and practiced.
"Being more humorous is a choice," he explained. "It helps to be weird, warped or at least a little loopy. But you can also be a funny person by consciously developing your own humor type and then expanding and varying your types of humor."
A key element is the ability to poke fun at yourself, develop a sense of humility and take yourself less seriously, Mr. Gliner noted. "I'm at that stage of middle age when my ankles crack, my knees creak and my stomach rumbles." Pause. "I don't feel like I'm getting older, just noisier."
Office laughter also can help reduce stress. "You know what real stress is? When you grind your teeth all night long -- and your teeth are sitting in a glass."
Using humor also can soften up a co-worker to accept a difficult task, Mr. Gliner pointed out.
A hospital chief touring his facility sees a full bedpan in the hallway and asks an orderly to empty it. The orderly says it's not in his job description, because he just does floors and walls. How does the administrator solve the problem? He picks up the pan and throws it at the man's job description.
But be playful in using humor, not sarcastic or mean, he advised. Know your subject and how that person may react. One person may break up laughing at a joke, while another may consider the same story an insult.
Props help to convey humor without being terribly pointed toward one person, Mr. Gliner said, pulling out his bag of tricks.
Clacking teeth, wind-up toys, Groucho glasses, funny-looking figures, signs and cartoons -- these visual gags at your desk identify you as a humorous person open to co-workers and give others a humorous lift.
Even a burst of canned laughter from a recorder can help to gently neutralize a hostile caller or a co-worker who is in a rage.
The secretaries revealed some of the ways they use humor to deal with office peeves.
A boss who displayed his bad mood by obsessively running his fingers through his hair got a poster from his staff of a look-alike with the same mannerisms, a jesting reminder to jog him out of future funks.
One office worker programmed her computer to play an amusing tune that helps to cut the tension on difficult days. A perpetually tardy employee found a cheap watch left on his desk one day, a joking but pointed reminder of his annoying habit.
Jokes and stories can help to convince and inform others much more effectively than a dozen dry memos, Mr. Gliner said.
But to be effective, you have to prepare the story and adapt it to your own wording. Practice the story and experiment with timing and wording and gestures. "Tell the story six or eight times in a day -- preferably to different people," he advised.
Collect stories from others and create your own. Tying the right story to your point requires building a repertoire for future use, he said.
However, humor can't solve all problems or relieve all office tensions, Mr. Gliner admitted philosophically. "Laughter's a lot like changing a baby's diaper. It's not a permanent solution, but it sure makes things more acceptable for a while."