The Humor Alternative
Applying humor is an alternate approach that can be beneficial in certain business situations. For example, we all know coworkers who have an aversion to cleaning up after themselves on the job. I have observed colleagues' posting humiliating signs in work-site kitchens, insulting others (and their mothers), tossing dirty dishes, etc., making others angry in the process, and not accomplishing anything constructive. Humor applied yielded the following successful resolution of an actual work challenge. As a bonus, this story opened the door to my being featured in the conclusion of an article in The Wall Street Journal's "Cubicle Culture" column (May 23, 2006).
My cubicle was across from another auditor who never cleaned the hot cocoa remains out of her mug before she left on her extended out-of-town assignments. Audit after audit I had to smell her spoiling cocoa and would have to hear her return to shriek "Ewww! My mug is growing something!!!!!" Yet again she exited for a three-week audit and I checked her office and, sure enough, she left her cocoa leftovers in her mug to fester.
Before she came back, I rinsed out her mug, planted a live moss plant in it, and placed the mug on her desk. When she returned from the audit the subsequent week, she entered her office, put down her briefcase, sat in her chair, and suddenly blurted out in an awed, amazed sort of way, "My mug really IS growing something!"
I went over to her office and politely explained I was the culprit. She understood immediately and thought it was quite amusing, and most importantly not offensive, laughing heartily along with me. And from then on she always washed out her mug before she left on extended jaunts.
If you work full-time+, lunch hour is an important part of keeping your life in balance. One day at lunch I ventured into the post office near my workplace to buy stamps, and also to mail a small package to return a good luck charm inadvertently abandoned in my son's car by a fellow superstitious ice hockey player who carried the item to every game. There were two postal clerks, one waiting on customers and the other seated at a desk. When I finally made it to the front of the line, the clerk inquired as to whether the package contained anything flammable, etc., and I replied, "No, I am just mailing a unicorn back to its rightful owner."
The clerk waiting on me acted like, yea, whatever, but the second clerk who was seated behind the counter and to the right just glared at me. The latter's mouth dropped open and her eyes were wide in horror. I looked at her and remarked, "What? I'm mailing a toy unicorn back to a youth who left it in my son's car." She quickly sighed and replied with obvious relief, "Oh, I thought you meant you were mailing a REAL live little unicorn!" I paid for my postage and turned quickly away from the postal counter, barely restraining my reaction, and made it outside as fast as I could before I laughed until I could barely breathe. My colleagues, straining to believe me, thought the story was hilarious, and thus a little lunchtime levity lightened the afternoon for all.
My work function had to quickly find a way to track project costs to comply with new government regulations without causing any programming work (no time to write a business case, much less get it approved, and no budget anyway--you know the drill). So another manager and I arranged a meeting with a higher-level district manager who could give us permission to hijack an existing tracking mechanism for our unique purpose, but she had thus far been stubbornly unreceptive and overall resistant.
One guy in our group had nicknamed her "Death Lips" since she wore super dark lipstick (and matching nail polish) which made her pallid skin look even more pale, sort of like a vampire. She also had the habit of ending conversations with her hands raised high in the air, palms out, ominously uttering "I've heard enough." And thus a meeting would be over, hopes dashed, period.
But we knew her weakness--she couldn't last much longer than an hour without a smoke break. Bless those who made our work venues smoke-free! So we proceeded through the first hour of our meeting at a snail's pace, my co-worker and I taking turns explaining in excruciating detail all the avenues we had pursued to find an alternative to track projects another way, but kept coming back to the method she supervised. And of course for the first hour she said, "No, I . . . ." , but we never allowed her to finish a sentence, so she was unable to get to her meeting-ending mantra.
An hour passed and she was beginning to look desperate. After 75 minutes she started seriously fidgeting and her eyes kept darting to her watch. We persisted relentlessly and rarely let her speak a word. After 85 minutes she could barely sit still in her chair and acted like she would make a mad dash for an escape, but we had taken the chairs by the door thereby blocking her exit so she couldn't bolt past us. After an hour and a half she declared unilaterally we could use her tracking method for our lousy project purposes--mission accomplished! And thus Death Lips released her stranglehold on the project tracking mechanism, free of charge.
One day I had to use the copier one floor up because our copier kept overheating--may have been because I was making 20 copies of a 200-page manual, you think? Anyway the key operator guy for the second copier was rather strange, scary, tall and brooding (sort of like Freddie Krueger), and very protective of his copier. As I stealthily approached the copier, carrying my own paper so I couldn't be accused of appropriating another department's supplies, the coast was clear of "Freddie."
I quickly began making my mountain of copies. Then I noticed the dozen or more signs "Freddie" had taped to wall above the copier. One was a Copier Malfunction service call placed 5/19/2000, with the actual paper clips which had jammed the machine taped to the repair report. While I read the signs, as luck would have it, "Freddie" sneaked up behind me, looking for an e-mail he had sent to the copier.
He glared at my growing stack of paper, and then pointed out one his signs taped to the wall which informed the ignorant that large copy jobs were to be sent out to a contractor to be copied. I told him my boss wouldn't pay for an outside contractor to copy my manuals (remember the budget constraints). "Freddie" asked if I even worked on his floor. (Mind you, I'm one floor up, same company.) I replied I worked on a floor below, but I had brought my own paper, so I wasn't using his.
He shook his finger at his sign and then at me, reiterating only small jobs were to be copied on the local copier. Stalling, since my copy job was just about done and his copy would be right behind mine, I explained I only did this mass copying once a year for a governmental filing and proceeded to compliment him on his wonderful copier that did not overheat like ours did.
Fortunately, just then, his copy spit out and I handed it to him, offering to recopy it on non-holed paper because I had used 3-holed paper in drawer 4 (which I learned was a no-no per another one of "Freddie's" signs--only non-holed 8 1/2" by 11" paper was permitted to be used in that drawer). Looking disgusted about my flouting of his rules, he turned and mumbled out "no thanks" and left.
As I picked up my photocopies, my eyes caught sight of another of "Freddie's" signs, truly a gem: "Corporate policy Forbids employees from copying any part of their person on this machine." Yuck!!! I ran down the steps as rapidly as possible balancing two feet of paper, returned to my desk, and used half a small bottle of hand sanitizer.
Awkwardness + Humor = Tact
Early one morning I was invited to a meeting in which one of the other attendees was from out of town. He remarked he had not had any time to get coffee at the hotel and had just passed by our office coffee machine on the way into the meeting and there was no coffee available. He appeared to be in desperate need of his morning caffeine fix if we expected him to be functioning in the meeting.
The fellow leading the meeting turned to me (the only woman in attendance in the midst of a whole conference room full of men) and asked if I could go make coffee. I replied I would be glad to make the coffee, but if I did I would highly recommend no one drink it after I made it. The meeting coordinator looked at me sort of funny and asked why not. I told him I did not drink coffee since my mother had never permitted the children in our family to have coffee as youngsters; she was convinced coffee would stunt our growth if we drank it, so I did not develop a taste for it (nor can I even tolerate the smell of coffee), ergo I have never made a pot of coffee.
And then I proceeded to ask when I do go to make the coffee if I should put in the creamer or coffee first in the pot and then the water or vice versa. Slightly baffled by the turn of events and a little perplexed, the leader of the meeting just then spotted the office assistant in the far corner of the conference room handing out photocopies of the agenda and he asked her to please make the coffee. And thus a little humorous intervention on my part turned a potentially awkward and embarrassing situation into a negligible blip on the radar screen. No harm, no foul.
Modify or Invent Quotes
Spice up your work conversation with new twists on well-known phrases to adapt them to the current situation and get your point across:
"What happens in March stays in March." March is a truly trying month in my line of work in auditing, accounting and finance, so it is best to forgive and forget any offenses that might have happened. "March Madness" has a whole other meaning for auditors and accountants.
Many common adages function well even if the subject and predicate are reversed, e.g., the exercise mantra "Short-term pain equals long-term gain" becomes "Short-term gain equals long-term pain". Those who might be contemplating beefing up financial results to enhance short-term reporting only to reap the inevitable damage to a company's integrity, and possibly its existence, would benefit from minding this twist of phrase. Also, individuals who practice "cool vices" would be remiss in ignoring the truth of "Short-term gain (street cred, thinness, stress relief) equals long-term pain (deterioration of health, offspring's wellness, appearance and/or relationships)." Take up walking, weight-lifting, guitar, blogging, reading, whatever, as an alternative, pretty please, with sugar on top.
"When life gives you lemons--make lemon biscotti!" Updating a well-worn adage will bring a smile to the most hardened visage. And should you need a lemon biscotti recipe, visit the Recipes page. Yes, I am one of the bakers in my work group if you had not already guessed by now.
If you are working late and another colleague regrettably shows up to waste your evening even more, respond "Hey, you're burning moonlight". This linguistic adaptation ought to catch the offender speechless just long enough for you to pick up your phone to make a call to someone you know is already gone, but at least the coworker will depart.
"May the force be with you" is a thought I now extend to those drivers on the highway who have tailgated me for the better part of a mile, and then roar past me flying 15 or 20 miles over the speed limit. Sure beats flashing your lights or parts of your bodily anatomy at them, the latter which can earn you a ticket and a court date in my part of the U.S. And it usually invokes a chortle or smile to relieve some of the annoyance, especially so if later if I observe their being pulled over.
Surprise Your Colleagues by Creating Unique Quotes
"Getting a decision out of them is like trying to nail gelatin to the wall." This ought to create a vivid picture in your listener's mind. Or if your joints creak as you arise out of your chair after a tortuous two-hour meeting: "After 40, the warranty is off."
When someone asks you to change a process or do something without a coherent reason or viable explanation, but you obviously have no choice, respond: "I'm flexible--just call me Gumby." For those of you who are so young you have no clue who Gumby is, he was a cartoon character made of a rubbery material who was filmed in stop-action. Gumby was very flexible. This response earned me a "that's really good!" comment.
Alliteration Alters Attitudes
Use alliteration in your e-mails occasionally to provoke a smile and garner attention while adding a little class and, especially when the message is less than flattering, soften the blow. I was describing a fellow worker, based on her sloppy but resourceful work product which I had just edited, to a colleague: "She is decidedly deficient in deciphering details but does seem to possess a tenacity for tackling ticklish topics." This evoked a ;) from the recipient of my e-mail, all the while portraying the situation succinctly, but clearly and politely, and in an entertaining manner.
Mix Your Metaphors
We have all been taught to avoid mixing metaphors, but what fun is that? How about intentionally mixing your metaphors on occasion just to make a point in an entertaining way. If your work group has a lot of youth in it, for example, and has taken on a new and challenging-to-the-point-of-frustrating project, then how about shedding some "light" on the situation: "We are newbies trying to corral an elephant and this is our first rodeo."
Thanks for visiting!
P.S. Laughter is healthy. As little as a quarter hour a day of laughter is likely beneficial to your vascular system. Laughter may be able to help your blood vessels to open up, suggesting the release of good chemicals. So laugh and improve your health!