A Dose of Humor Will Help Manage Your Stress

I’ll be the first one to tell you improv isn’t all about comedy and making people laugh. However, my introduction to improv resulted from finding and using comedy as a coping mechanism to deal with several challenges life threw my way. 

There is great power in being able to leverage comedy, laughter, and improv. The fundamentals of improvisation have been a literal lifesaver for me in dealing with highly stressful situations throughout my life. The fact is, stress is a part of our everyday lives. Stress can come from a variety of sources. For example, stress can come from daily frustrations, including our jobs, others from unexpected challenges, such as significant health issues, or a looming deadline as your work piles up around you. 

You remember this saying, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Mary Poppins was onto something here: to digest something undesirable but necessary – add something sweet to go with it! I favor taking this advice literally – sweets and snacks made available when you are in a crunch can undoubtedly go a long way, but so can humor. 

Is there anything better than experiencing a terrific laugh? It’s one of those sensations that lightens your mood and makes you want more. When something is funny, it feels good – it’s sweet that can make medicine taste a little better. So, why are so many workplaces seemly devoid of humor? I often ask my audiences, “When was the last time your coworkers burst out into laughter, and it wasn’t at your expense?” Of course, the answer depends on your culture and your colleagues. But all too often, that humor isn’t as typical and present as it should be, and stress can be a big reason for that. 

But, a regular dose of laughter reduces stress, and it’s desirable. A Forbes article written by Jacquelyn Smith cited a few statistics that validate the importance of humor. According to the article, “A Robert Half International survey, for instance, found that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement; while 84% feel that people with a good sense of humor do a better job. Another study by Bell Leadership Institute found that the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor.” 

I get it though, people are in survival mode, just trying to get through until quitting. When you’re facing a strict deadline or enduring an impossible task, the last thing you probably want to hear is some joker saying, “Hey, did you hear the one about the priest, the rabbi, and Bill Clinton walking into a bar?” You want to rip their tonsils out. However, humor need not be a stand-up routine – it can be present in how you finish a request in an email or a brief quip in passing to a colleague in the lunchroom. It can also take more sophisticated forms that take more time – such as [kind] pranks when it’s someone’s birthday, or someone reaches a career milestone, or if your college football team beat your colleague’s football team. 

The following are a handful of ways you can help decrease stress and hopefully increase humor and fun (all while being incredibly efficient and productive): 

Smile. It seems so simple, but body language – especially a smile – can dramatically impact how you and all your coworkers feel. It takes the edge off tense moments; it communicates that you aren’t consumed with negative feelings; it makes you more approachable, and others will feel comfortable around you; it invites positive emotions. 

Be prepared. The clown amuses no one at work that isn’t pulling their weight, shows up late to meetings, and can’t be relied on. Having humor in the workplace doesn’t mean you shirk your responsibilities. Humor is enjoyed with you, and those around you are confident – and that confidence, especially in the workplace, comes with being prepared for your job. Preparation for the days and weeks ahead will allow you to be less stressed and more confident – which will not only help you and your clients. It will help your colleagues. 

Adapt. Adaptability is a HUGE part of improvisational humor – it IS improv. Many things in life can be stressful, but we can “go with the flow.” Adapting is simply the ability to readjust as you experience things – whether that readjusts your sales pitch or the time in the morning you give a presentation, or having to select a different menu item when your first choice is sold out. No matter the situation, it takes flexibility and confidence to address change head-on – and let’s face it, things are constantly changing, things rarely go as planned. 

Have the right attitude. Your attitude affects everything. Since being little children, we’ve been told this – depending on our mood, and we’ll see the world a certain way that can either be positive or negative. It’s also incredibly contagious. No matter the source of your stress, your success in overcoming it depends on your ability to perceive things positively. You either can see your situation as a challenge and make the most of it, or you can succumb to it and let the stress win. Your ability to positively approach the workday will dramatically affect the vibe of your group – even if you have some Debbie Downers. Perhaps you won’t be able to win everyone over, but there will be plenty who will positively respond to your cheerful and witty vibes. 

So you’re committed to bringing more levity to your workplace – good, you all need it! As you make an effort to get to know your team members and engage with them, you’ll soon be able to determine your comedic boundaries. Of course, most of you probably know your colleagues well enough to know your limitations already – but consider times where you need to collaborate with other teams, new clients, outside resources, etc. Just remember, wit and humor are appreciated, and it’s needed! So, let yourself laugh; doing so will reduce your stress and helps others reduce theirs. Laughter is the proven antidote, and it comes naturally when the company culture is conducive to it – so, be a part of it! 

S4E41. The Great Resignation: Why So Many People Are Saying “I Quit” with Brian Comerford

Brian Comerford is a digital leader and serial entrepreneur – notably co-founding RadioValve.com, one of the first generation of online radio stations. He served as an adjunct professor at The University of Denver – his alma mater – in the digital media studies department. He currently serves as the co-chair of the CIO Working Group for the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, and is a board member of the Adoption Exchange. On top of all of that (and more), he’s the host of the Lead.exe podcast. 

The Great Resignation is real. The pandemic opened the floodgates for remote work, which has opened up the possibilities for new jobs. And for those who are being called back to the office after a year and a half, they’re thinking about those new opportunities. People have also taken this time to reflect on their goals in life, and, if they don’t feel that their job contributes any meaning to their existence, they may take this time to explore other options.

We were told that employees are not productive when they work from home. Over the past year and a half it’s been proven that is not the case. Overwhelmingly, employees who have a choice in the matter are preferring either work from home or hybrid work models. There are still situations where working together in the same office can be beneficial, but we can learn to use that time intentionally rather than requiring it around the clock.

The previous generation of leadership was built on a lack of trust in hired employees. It was about monitoring, disciplining, and making sure they stayed on task. This has started to disappear, but some leadership styles are hard-lost. Leaders have to adapt to a new style of trust, and judging employees by the work they produce, not the amount of time they spend with their butt in the chair.

We’re starting to see a reinvention in how companies support their employees – how they offer compensation, work-life balance, and more. And if companies hope to retain their employees and attract talented new ones, they’re going to have to adapt to the demands of the workforce.

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How Do You Eat an Elephant?

Has anyone ever asked you this question “How do you eat an elephant?” This question has never been asked to me, and I discovered it while reading an article. This question and answer is a powerful metaphor for learning and development for all professionals.  The answer to the question is “one bite at a time.”  

Think about it, and if you tried to eat an entire elephant in one sitting, you would get sick. From that experience, you would never want to try to eat an elephant again. However, when you take your time eating one bite at a time, over a period of weeks or months, you would be able to consume the entire elephant.

Another way of thinking about this metaphor is that you have back issues and decide to strengthen your core by doing stomach crunches.  You have not done any abs exercises since Nixon was President of the United States.  Day one, you choose to do ten crunches, and you have success without any muscle cramps. You continue this daily trend, and by day 20, you might be up to 30 crunches by adding one additional crunch a day (small bites). By the end of three months, you might be able to do 75 crunches. However, when you look in the mirror, you don’t see any difference in your body shape, and your back is still giving you issues. Yet, you don’t give up, and you keep on putting in the daily work. This is the journey I started back in November of 2020.  This morning, September 3, 2021, I successfully did 1,000 crunches which took me 14 minutes. As a result, my back is stronger, and I even have a better definition in my abs. 

The question now becomes – How long does it take to create a habit?  If you search the internet, you will find that it takes 21 days.  However, that is a myth.  According to research, it takes 66 days to start a habit. That’s right, a little over two months to START the habit AND don’t forget to continue this habit development every single day, if possible. So if you miss a day or two, don’t get discouraged, start again, and try not to put too much distance between when you stopped and then started again. And don’t beat yourself up because you miss a day or two or even a week. 

I began 20 + years ago adopting the mindset of an improviser.  I would leave sticky notes around the house, my car, and my office that said Yes! And. I wanted to keep those words accessible to me so I could create a habit and enact change. Unfortunately, over the 20 + years, I have fallen off the improv wagon way too many times than I wish to count. I would have to force myself back on the improv wagon and away from my old habits in the early years.  Getting back on the improv wagon was not easy at all. I was very comfortable with my earlier bad habits – letting my ego get out of control, not being a good listener, and trying to make it all about me.  However, I felt that those were not the suitable characteristics for a good leader and business professional, despite the behaviors I was witnessed by my current bosses/leaders.  

So, I would get back on the improv wagon and keep working toward my goal.  I learned that the amount of time it took me to get back on the improv wagon decreased because I was building up solid improv skills.  

Why is “one bite at a time” essential to learning and development for all professionals? Let’s break it down into two pieces – technical learning and development and non-technical learning and development.

Technical learning and development is the mastery of your technical competency. 

You want your surgeon to be technically sound as they cut into your body. You want your attorney to be technically sound while they are representing you in a jury trial. You want your insurance salesperson to be technically sound in the insurance policy they are offering their clients. Features, benefits, and side-effects are valuable information that is memorized to avoid getting policies confused with other policies or products. 

You developed the foundation for these technical skills during your college years. That foundation allows you to elevate into developing your complex technical skills.  

Non-technical learning and development, ahh, okay, let’s change this to Power Skills learning and development.  Today’s technical professionals (accounting, finance, engineering, health care, etc.) need to develop the mastery of power skills: communication, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, listening, adapting, strategic thinking, innovation, and more. When you sum all of these power skills into one, it becomes LEADERSHIP.  

Okay, I see some Scooby-Doo heads tilted and thinking, why?  I am technically sound in my craft, so why do I need to invest time into developing my so-called power skills to become a leader.

Let me sum it up in two parts. 

Part 1, the technical knowledge, jargon, and acronyms you spent years developing are now considered foreign languages. Have you ever had a meeting with your CPA, and you had no idea what the person was trying to say when you left? For example, I had a conversation with my doctor concerning some test results, and a massive tsunami of medical lingo consumed me.  I stopped her and politely said, “I have no idea what you just said. Can you tell me in plain English?” She paused and then said, “You may have cancer”. Okay – I heard and understood those words. And that gives me the knowledge I need to know what I possibly am dealing with (it was not cancer, thankfully). 

Anyone in any technical profession needs to become a better translator of their knowledge and expertise into plain English so others can understand and act upon the information.

Part 2, what business are you in?  It seems like a silly and simple question to answer, right? Yet, when I ask this question during a keynote or workshop to a group of CPAs, I get replies like auditing, tax, consulting, data analysis, etc.  I reply, “that is not the business you are in. That is the by-product of the actual business you are in”.  I take it to the point that either someone gives me the correct answer or it looks like someone wants to punch me out.  The correct answer is – you are in the people business, first and foremost. Without PEOPLE, you have no business!

I hope you ponder this thought for a while and come to realize that I am correct.  Since we are in the people business, we better develop those critical skills, or we will be out of business.  Business improv develops all of the critical people skills that everyone in an organization needs to master. Business improv is about letting go of your agenda to listen intently — to be empathetic and open-minded in the present moment — so you can truly connect with colleagues and other stakeholders to generate optimal results.

Think about that elephant and what that elephant represents – Leadership. Now, take one bite at a time and start investing in your power skills so you can have a greater impact on the people you hire, on the people you lead, on your customers and clients, on the people that are your business partners, the people in your community, and the people of the world.

S4E37: The Shocking Secret Behind Business Potential with Michael Sherlock

Don’t be fooled by name, the hair color, or the crazy shoes – Michael Sherlock is serious about business. She’s dedicated to creating positive, productive, and profitable workplaces, and helping individuals and businesses unlock their ultimate potential.

Before launching her global training company, Shock Your Potential, Michael was Vice President of US Sales for two multinational medical device companies that were responsible for net revenue exceeding $75 million and as many as 500 employees at a time. In 2020, she released the Shock Your Potential app, an on-demand training tool for leadership and sales professionals, and was chosen as #12 of the Top Female Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2021 by EnterpriseLeague.com.

Michael is incredibly passionate about leadership. It prompted her first book, Tell Me More, all about how to ask questions to get the most out of your employees. Her own leadership journey had always been connected to sales – and leadership strategies are different in a sales environment. You can use the same concepts, but you have to apply them differently. You have to get people to stop seeing sales as something to be afraid of and instead see it as a relationship.

So many salespeople make assumptions about what their customers want – and it stops them from making the ask. As a salesperson, you don’t decide what’s expensive to a customer, what their tastes are, and how strong their pain point is. When you just take your emotions out of the equation and instead ask questions to understand them, you won’t be so fearful.

It’s time to SHOCK your potential, and:

  • Stand out
  • Hone your skills and hire your deficiencies
  • Operate as if you’re already there
  • Cultivate the people & opportunities to get you there
  • Know your value & your worth

Anyone can do this. Everyone has this potential inside of them, they just need to shock it out.

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Power Skills are Hard to Master!

On August 10th, I delivered the keynote address welcoming the Master of Science in Accounting students at Oklahoma State University to the Fall 2021 semester.  The title of my keynote was Improv Is No Joke.  Not something you would expect to be a keynote title to a group of accounting students.  

Prior to the students attendance, I had a conversation with the department head of the school of accounting, Dr. Audrey Gramling.  Dr. Gramling is a huge proponent of developing accounting students’ power skills.  You know, those skills that we commonly refer to as soft skills.  I like to say, ‘we may call them soft skills, but they are very hard to master’.  I assured her that my presentation would focus on these Power Skills.  

Before my keynote began, there was a video message to the students from the dean of the Spears School of Business, Dr. Ken Eastman.  In his welcome to the students, he referenced the Korn Ferry five skills that need to be developed right now: Agility, Creativity, The Service Mindset, Communication, and Leadership.  In other words, the improviser’s mindset.  

Let’s dig deeper into the Korn Ferry blog posting, ‘Five Skills That Need to be Developed Right Now’. Agility, Creativity, The Service Mindset, Communication, and Leadership.

Agility means “being able to adapt quickly to uncertainty and constant change.” That, in and of itself, is improvisation.  The ability to adapt or be agile means focusing on the things that we have control over and letting go of things that we have no control over.  This is accomplished through the philosophy of Yes! And. Accept the premise that is handed to you, and positively add to it.  

Creativity “can be as simple as staying curious and not falling into the trap of “this is how it has always been done.” It also requires two separate and distinct types of thinking, divergent and convergent thinking.  Divergent thinking is the process of coming up with lots of ideas without censoring yourself or others, or saying the dreaded creativity killer, “we can’t do that.” In improv we say, you can’t create and criticize in the same space. Criticism is essential in creativity only after all of the ideas have been vetted. Convergent thinking is the process of analyzing those divergent ideas to determine which ideas can solve the problem at hand. 

The Service Mindset is “having the awareness to adjust the goods and services we provide to customers, in the way they need them, when they need them – this is a critical skill for talent.” To do this effectively, you need to park your ego and listen to what the customer wants, not what you think the customer needs. In improv, it is all about the team, and the customer, and less about ourselves.

Communication is essential ​​in both “written and verbal skills and presenting well in-person and on videoconference, [these] are growing in strategic importance.” The ability to articulate your thoughts and deliver that message in a way that your audience can understand has always been important, even more so when delivering it virtually.  This communication also extends to your body language, both in-person and on Zoom and other virtual platforms. Always present positive body language when speaking or attending any meeting or presentation.  This means no slouched posture, no using your smartphone, and always have your camera on when in a virtual environment, just to name a few.  

Leadership is developing “talent with the ability to reach out and take the initiative, build relationships across the organization, and foster trust and inclusion through behavior and actions – [these are skills] in demand at every level.” Leadership is also about being vulnerable around your team and letting them know when you are wrong.  In improv, it is all about the team and less about you. Our job is to make the individuals on our team look good, support them, and treat them with the highest respect. It is not our job to disrespect them or tear them down. That is just your ego getting in the way. Let your ego sit on the bench for a while and focus on what is best for the team.

The two-hour keynote on improv contained the essence of this Korn Ferry blog, along with helping these accounting students understand that they speak a foreign language called accounting.  Those in the corporate world who are not well versed in the foreign language of accounting have no idea what you are saying.  The sixth critical skill that every accountant, engineer, or financial person needs to develop is a translation of technical language into plain English.  When you master all six of these skills, you have become a well-versed and highly impactful leader within your organization. 

If you would like to discuss this article, please email me at peter@petermargaritis.com