Saturday, January 26, 2013
One of my more irritating behaviours, and I have a few apparently, is to respond to questions about how I am with a big smile, eye contact and, ‘Absolutely Stunning’ or ‘Magnificent’. The reaction varies a lot but mostly consists of the sort of confusion that one usually tries to create when inducing a trance in hypnosis. When people tell me that they are OK, I implore them to raise the bar, to be stupendous, incredible or sensational. I was in a coffee shop last week and a young woman responded with a huge grin and great gusto to my ‘Absolutely stunning’ with, ‘Well, I’m fantastically wonderful’. This produced lots of laughs and grins from the assembled addicts, sprinkled with the odd look that seemed to suggest we were on prohibited substances.
A lot of these transactions are with people who are working and who do not, on the face of it, look like they are having a good time. In fact, I’ve often wondered weather or not people put on their serious hat when they walk into their place of work: managers included.
There is a substantial amount of research and plentiful anecdotal accounts to suggest that having fun at work improves productivity, inventiveness, engagement, and the health and well being of workers. Similarly we know that environment is a factor in determining how people feel: a bright airy, cheerful ambience is going to result in far more positive outlook than a dark, dingy and windowless office, for example. Humans are deeply sensitive and unconsciously so to events in the environment such as the behaviour of others both verbal and non-verbal, surroundings, climate, smells, light and so on.
Canny people, great leaders, know how to influence people out of their awareness by manipulating these elements.
But it seems that work is a serious business as far as I can see. It’s almost irreverent to think of work as something other than serious for some people and one gets strange looks when the mask of seriousness is challenged. A now retired colleague of mine reminded me the other day of his previous habit of doing tapestry when he attended really long meetings. He did this to stop falling asleep and, I suspect, because he got extremely bored with the goings on. Some of these meetings would go all day. You’d think that such an event could lead to some sort of nasty psychosis. About an hour is as long as I can stand in a meeting before I start to get the fidgets. I am an expert at conducting short meetings mostly for my sanity.
You can guess the sort of reaction he got to this novel habit from what was a pretty conservative bunch of university council members. Mind you, he reckons that it was very powerful because when he put down his tapestry to speak all eyes were on him and he had their attention.
Most of you have probably seen the video or at least read articles about the fish market in Seattle appropriately called ‘Fish’. If you haven’t, then have a look, it’s fantastic. One of the themes is about having fun at work and this market have become world famous by doing what they do and entertaining customers and invigorating themselves. They didn’t want to be ordinary.
In fact, who wants to be ordinary? It may, of course, not be a matter of choice. Some people find it hard to have fun. I remember a psychiatrist once telling a patient that she was about to be discharged and she responded that she couldn’t go home because she was much too depressed. The doctor replied that she wouldn’t be happy unless she as depressed. This has stayed with me, I was 19 at the time, and I think there is an element of truth in this. Some people need to be serious, businesslike. Others find it hard to smile, have eye contact, touch, or respond with enthusiasm.
The psychotherapy literature, however, would suggest that you can indeed learn how to have fun in your dealings with the world. If we can teach depressed people to change how they speak, think and present themselves in a more positive way, then it seems likely that we can teach the average person at work. The research on happiness is still in its infancy so the jury is still out on what happiness is and how to achieve it, despite the popular books on the subject. But I’m convinced, as a therapist because I’ve done it countless times, that we can change how people behave and thereby change how they feel about themselves. I have worked with people who have Asperger’s Syndrome and they can be taught the skills associated with interpersonal connectedness, even though it doesn’t come naturally to them.
I think that being able to create a fun workplace is a mandatory capability for managers and, fundamental to being a great if not humane leader. Make it part of your strategic conversations with your staff and develop, or have your staff, develop some great ways to enhance your workplace, make it cheerful and make it fun. Watch the culture change and people lift.
Incidentally, if you wake up miserable and don’t feel like being cheerful at work today-here’s a tip. Force yourself to sing in the shower, spruce yourself up, dress in clothes that mostly make you feel good, force a smile, and put your shoulders back. Force yourself to smile, make eye contact, and tell everyone around you how great you feel, that life is great and that you are going to have a hell of a day. Repeat as necessary and you will indeed have a great day. Mostly, enjoy yourself and make it your mission to make those around you to have a great day too.