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Workplace Gaffe? Make 'Em Laugh!

Workplace Gaffe? Make 'Em Laugh!

In my first admin job, I committed a gaffe I was certain would end my career. While sorting mail, I accidentally trashed the VP's paycheck. I figured I was doomed but wrote a last-ditch satirical news release about how to get the boss's attention, featuring my faux pas, and routed it to my coworkers. One shared it with the VP himself, who thought it was hilarious. He saw me as a versatile writer who didn't take herself too seriously. I ended up working there for five years.

"I don't know if people are more successful in business if they have the ability to laugh at themselves, but I definitely think it lightens up a stressful situation at work," says Jamie Masada, owner and CEO of The Laugh Factory comedy clubs in New York City and Los Angeles. "If you take everything too seriously at the office, it can put a damper on your day. The more you laugh, the less stressful the work environment may seem.

Follow these tips to make light of a potentially heavy workplace situation:

Use Comedy to Build Camaraderie

For Paul Dilakian, an associate account executive at a public relations firm, laughter is the key to keeping workplace stress in check. He recalls one particularly bad day on which the company receptionist provided some much-needed comic relief when a box of copier toner exploded all over her: "Her hair, face, glasses and white outfit were completely black." Though Dilakian felt sorry for her, he couldn't help laughing. And the receptionist joined in, the outrageous laughter lifting everyone's spirits.

"If you can't step outside of the day-to-day chaos and have a laugh, it can really take a toll on your sanity," Dilakian says. "It's important to realize that there's more to work than just work. You're not machines. You're human beings with interests and emotions that need to be stimulated.

Practice Good Humor

But as every stand-up comedian knows, not every attempt at humor hits the mark -- and no one wants to bomb in front of the boss. "Whether you're in front of 100 people at the Chuckle Hut or Marcy and Joan in accounts receivable, the same rules apply," says comedian, writer and actor Peter Spruyt. He and comedy songwriter Grant Baciocco explain how to develop your comedic timing:

  • Know Your Audience: "The material that works in front of a crowd of uptown hipsters at midnight on a Friday won't fly with the 8 a.m. office audience on Monday," Spruyt cautions. "So you need to gauge the sensibilities of the people you're talking to. Know the difference between what makes them laugh and what they find hurtful, offensive or just plain stupid."

    Poke Fun at Yourself: Tell the truth, Baciocco says. "Pretend you're a third party viewing what happened, and [tell it] from that perspective. Audiences enjoy when you can poke fun at yourself, so simply saying, ‘this was my moment of stupidity...' will get them laughing."

    Consider the Situation: "The safest situation is one where you have committed the blunder yourself, because you're not likely to get fired or reprimanded for self-deprecating humor," Spruyt says. "If it's someone else, be sure that person enjoys a laugh at his expense before you risk joining the ranks of the unemployed."

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