The power of well-timed humor

I was done. I had spent four days presenting, networking, and wearing only moderately comfortable shoes at General Assembly. I was grateful and better for the interactions, but I was also ready to crawl into a hole and hibernate. The problem was, I had an 8:50 pm flight (delayed a half hour, naturally) and then an hour drive home once I landed. So I was grumpy when I boarded the plane.

Thank goodness I was booked on Southwest. At the start of my trip, I was glad because this meant I had a non-stop flight to the smaller and closer airport, plus I could check a bag for free. (A luxury these days!) At the end of my trip, flying Southwest meant that the crew was free of the staidness of other airlines. The safety demonstration, then, included reminders about not using your neighbor as a flotation device, putting on your own oxygen mask and then turning to your seatmate to decide “if it’s worth it,” and using the emergency exits and slides in case the captain decided to go shark fishing. The lead flight attendant used funny voices and a few dance moves to share other pertinent information. And when we landed, he informed us that the local temperature was 37 degrees. (At 11:00 pm, it was 90.)

I’m sure I wasn’t the only cranky person at boarding time. Yet, when we disembarked (late) into the muggy night, almost everyone I saw was smiling. This borderline-miracle seemed instructive. The flight attendant’s humor:

Caught my attention. Confession: I never listen to the safety information. It’s always the same. But I turned off my headphones because I didn’t want to miss any of the standup act.

Lifted my spirits. I was worried about driving home at my fatigue level, and I dreaded my human alarm waking me up early the next morning, as much as I couldn’t wait to see him. I felt more awake and refreshed for the journey after a few laughs.

Made me want to engage with others. As a raging introvert, I avoid conversations on planes by listening to podcasts and trying to nap. But my improved mood made me open to looking at internet memes with the stranger sitting next to me.

Was contagious. Laughter – like yawning – often is.

When in our work could a bit of well-timed humor do wonders for the atmosphere and productivity? Maybe a committee meeting when everyone is zoned out. Or a congregational gathering where those present are discussing unavoidable (and expensive) repairs to the building. Or even a funeral. (That’s probably not the best venue to work on your Jim Gaffigan “Hot Pockets” voice, but some self-deprecation might do.)

Good-natured humor humanizes and connects. Tuck it into your toolkit for a time when you need to shrink the dimensions of your meeting space.

Photo by Braydon Anderson on Unsplash.

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