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The East African : June 9th 2014
The EastAfrican 46 BUSINESS JUNE 7-13,2014 MANAG E R Leading with humou≥: Using laughte≥ to make the wo≥kplace mo≥e enjoyable COMMENTARY ALISON BEARD “The problem, most would say, is that humour is subjective: What you find amusing or sidesplittingly hilarious, others most certainly do not.” Wharton, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and London Business School, every chuckle or guffaw brings with it a host of business benefits. Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and wellbeing, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity. And yet, as the MBA can- T didate Eric Tsytsylin recently put it in a video presentation featured on the Stanford website, working adults are “in the middle of a laughter drought.” Babies laugh, on average, 400 times a day; people over 35, only 15. A recent study of Gallup data for the US found that we laugh significantly less on weekdays than we do on weekends. Work is a sober endeavour. So how, exactly, can organisations and individual leaders get their employees to laugh more? The problem, most would say, is that humour is subjective: What you find amusing or side-splittingly hilarious, Mary in marketing and Amir in accounting most certainly do not. But the authors of two recent books on the subject — The Humour Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny and Inside Jokes: Using Humour he workplace needs laughter. According to research from institutions as serious as to Reverse-Engineer the Mind — disagree. They believe that there’s a formula for what makes all people laugh, and they work extremely hard, in very different ways, to prove their cases. In The Humour Code, Peter McGraw, a marketing and psychology professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and journalist Joel Warner travel from the comedy clubs of Los Angeles to the remote villages of Tanzania and the Amazon to (casually) test their theory that humour rests on “benign violation”: That is, something provokes laughter when it is “wrong, unsettling or threatening” but also seems “okay, acceptable or safe.” The men behind Inside Jokes — Matthew M Hurley, of Indiana University; Daniel C Dennett, of Tufts University; and Reginald B Adams Jr, of Pennsylvania State University — take a much more academic approach and arrive at a different, though perhaps related, theory. They say (in typically arcane prose): “Humour happens when an assumption is epistemically committed to in a mental space and then discovered to have been a mistake.” Translation: We laugh when we find that something we’ve momentarily believed to be the case isn’t in fact true, and at others in the same predicament, and at stories about such situations, especially if they are linked to peers — check. Light teasing among longtime colleagues — check. Even privately poking fun at outsiders who prompt the same reaction from your entire group (for example, arrogant consultants or clueless interns) — check. Of course, all of this must be done with extreme care. While both books note that humour emphasising superiority is universally effective (every culture has its own version of the dumb blonde joke), discriminatory comments are obviously a punishable offence. Perhaps it’s best, then, to look at some of the broader recommendations summarised at the end of The Humour Code: • It’s not whether or not you’re funny, it’s what kind of funny you are. Be honest and authentic. • If you can’t be “ha-ha” funny, at least be “aha!” funny. Cleverness is sometimes good enough. • Good comedy is a conspira- cy. Create an in-group. • Don’t be afraid to chuckle at yourself. It signals everything is OK. • Laughter is disarming. Poke fun at the stuff everyone’s worried about. (One more useful tip: To tell whether a workmate’s amusement is real, not faked, look for crinkling around the eyes; if it’s there, you’ve got true “Duchenne” laughter — named for the French physician who identified it. My favourite colleagues make “My favourite bosses know how to be funny and elicit the same fun-loving behaviour from their employees.” pleasures of other kinds, such as insight, schadenfreude, superiority or sexual titillation. The simplest examples are puns and pranks, but the authors spend a lot of pages applying their analysis to various types of humour, and they definitely bored me into submission. Unfortunately, these books offer little practical advice for those seeking to ramp up laugh- ter levels at work. That’s because they focus mainly on jokes — the kind you hear at stand-up shows or on Saturday Night Live. How, then, can you put the work of these authors to good use? I do think their theories can help us understand what kind of humour works at the office and why. Self-deprecating stories shared between me laugh with personal stories, random e-mails and occasionally off-colour comments. And my favourite bosses know how to be funny and elicit the same fun-loving behaviour from their employees. McGraw and Warner cite a line worth remembering from the anthropologist Edward Hall: “If you can learn the humour of a people and really control it, you know that you are also in control of nearly everything else.” Alison Beard is a senior editor at Harvard Business Review Adapted from the NYTS Making a big (o≥ small) decision? He≥e’s how meditation can help 15-minutes A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT Knowledge@Wharton FORGET THE past. Ignore the likely future. Just spend a few minutes concentrating on your breathing, and focus on the task at hand. The advice is almost too simple to believe. But according to new research co-authored by Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade, if followed, it could save time and money for everyone — from a consumer searching for a new car all the way to the head of a billion-dollar corporation. Barsade, Andrew C Hafenbrack and Zoe Kinias are the authors of Debiasing the Mind through Meditation: Mindfulness and the Sunk-Cost Bias. The paper, published in Psychological Science, explores how short meditation sessions can reduce the likelihood that decisions will be made based on information from the past that should have no bearing on the choice at hand. Specifically, the researchers wanted to examine the intersection of meditation and the elimination of the sunk-cost bias, or the tendency to continue a losing course of action once time and money have been invested. Meditation has been shown to help people focus on the present and let go of both the past and future. The authors argue intensive meditation training can often involve two to five classes a week for eight weeks. But such involved training is often impractical, so the team wanted to look at the benefits of a shorter-term approach. To test the impact of short-term Of focused-breathing guided meditation recording made participants more likely to resist the sunk-cost bias than those who did not meditation on making decisions prone to influence by the sunkcost bias, the researchers set up a series of experiments. The first pair of studies asked participants to choose one of two decisionmaking tasks. In one task, making an affirmative decision — in other words, the choice to do something — represented the resistance to the sunk-cost bias. In the other, a negative decision — or the choice to not do something — meant the individual had resisted the bias. According to the authors, those in the study who had listened to a 15-minute focused-breathing guided meditation recording created specifically for the research were more likely to resist the sunkcost bias than those who had not. A subsequent survey, this one done online, required participants to complete a 10-item decisionmaking inventory, again with about half hearing the guided meditation recording beforehand. The results of the earlier studies were replicated and show the value of a short time-out when someone is placed in the role of a decision maker. “If you can do a short time-out, you can get yourself to a place that’s going to help you think better,” Hafenbrack says.. “If you find yourself in a position where you need to change the way you’re thinking and be sure you’re thinking in a less biased way… meditation is a way to do that.” The positive impact of taking a time-out is just as relevant to a consumer on a shopping trip as it is to a C-level executive, Hafenbrack adds.
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