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Humor Therapy or
Laughing in the Face of Stress:
Creatively Managing Stress and
Building Team Cooperation
SUMMARY OF SESSION:
In a 24/7 world that's cycling from "do more with less" downsizing to ever
faster upgrading while periodically spinning out of control, being able to step
back and laugh at life's challenges and absurdities is vital for survival. The
pressure to manage stress and to sustain individual and organizational
productivity and morale has never been greater. Have no fear…Mark Gorkin, "The
Stress Doc" ™ is here with his dynamic and interactive, inspiring and fun-filled
presentation and small group exercises. Learn to channel stress and frustration
as well as embarrassment into playful communication, safe sharing,
cooperative/creative action and team building. Gain fresh perspective on using
empathy and humor to encourage and sustain morale, productivity and effective
KEY LEARNING OBJECTIVES:
1. Recognize stress signals and the connection between “letting go” and “burning
2. Develop resilience through Natural SPEED and the “Six ‘F’s of Loss and
3. Have fun while learning purposeful communication tips and techniques for
disarming power struggles and building trust
Discover eight basic functions of humor along with playful applications
Learn how to "Transform Fear of Exposure into the Fun of Embarrassment"
6. Use fun "team discussion and drawing" program exercise to:
a) identify workplace sources of stress through safe and energizing group
b) recognize and empathize with others' challenging environments; not feel so
c) discover how the Doc's renowned creative small group exercise reduces stress,
stimulates creative expression, builds team motivation and morale...and it's
d) engage in group problem-solving exercises to develop individual, team and
organizational strategies for dealing with above sources of stress and conflict.
7. Discover the real "Serenity Prayer" and the "Secret of Wisdom"
Seek the higher power of Stress Doc Humor: May the Farce Be with You!
Don't miss your appointment with
the Stress Doc!
Mark Gorkin, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an
acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker and "Motivational Humorist," as well as
a team building and organizational development consultant working with Fortune
100s and major associations to an array of federal and state government
agencies. Mark, America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" ™, is the author of
Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger. See his award-winning, USA
Today Online "HotSite" --
www.stressdoc.com -- called a "workplace resource" by National Public
Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to
receive his free e-newsletter, email
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 301-875-2567.
Stress Doc defines and sheds light on higher purpose, motivational humor as a
creative, stress-reducing tool for these highly charged times. And to use a
tool effectively and creatively, it helps to know both its form and functions.
and Art of Motivational Humor: Definition and Functions
In crisis-driven, 24/7, relentlessly upgrading and unpredictably downsizing (or
reorganizing) world, it's no surprise that individuals, teams, divisions, and
even entire companies can become "stress carriers" or high stress environments.
A critical challenge for the organization is helping personnel, and especially
the foundational task and support system -- the work team -- maintain both
productivity and morale in these "do more with less" times. How can the HR
professional along with all levels of management as well as formal and informal
leaders help: (a) fight the "burnout blues," (b) prevent a "lean-and-MEAN"
attitude from becoming the department or company mantra, and (c) disarm an "us
against them" environment that invariably breeds hostile competition or in-house
Tough issues for sure…still, have no fear (well, maybe a little) the "Stress
Doc" is here to champion an underutilized conflict-resolving and
performance-enhancing intervention tool. So what is this magical and methodical
instrument for preventing your company's "esprit de corps" from turning into an
"esprit de corpse?" It's deceptively simple: HUMOR!
Humor Clarified and Defined
However, this humor, what I call "motivational humor," is a lot more than just a
good joke starting off a team or staff meeting. It's not having a humor day,
where management puts on clown noses or wigs. Nor is it firing loud sounding
toy guns to act out "playfully" disagreement or to distract momentarily during a
tense problem-solving meeting. While all these actions may temporarily lighten
a work atmosphere, I'm interested in more imaginative and involving
interventions that truly arise from live issues and conflicts, while they are
occurring. And this instrumental humor should have both short run and,
potentially, ongoing impact. Motivational humor is:
(1) healing -- releases frustration and opens up communication channels
within and among work teams
(2) harmonizing -- busts or gently blows away those trust barriers
between "superiors" and "subordinates"
(3) harnessing -- generates energy, creativity, and coordination or team
synergy both short run and ongoing.
To better understand this action concept, let us capture its semantic
foundation. According to The Random House Dictionary, "humor (is) the
recognition and expression of the incongruities and peculiarities in a situation
or conduct." A capacity for humor, especially positive motivational humor,
often reveals an ability to appreciate and play with life's absurdities; to poke
good-natured (and sometimes a bit more pointed) fun at others and, especially,
to laugh at our own flaws and foibles. In fact, for the pioneer of
psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, humor is the highest psychological defense
mechanism. Such mature humor and the capacity for self-effacing laughter,
reflects the encouragement of our efforts and a patient tolerance of our
Eight Functions of Humor
Humor also has many essential bio-psychosocial functions, eight of which I've
captured in an acronym. Humor is good for what AILS you:
A = Arousal and Affiliation.
Arousal. Hearty laughter provides dopamine-like stimulation when bored and
endorphin-induced relaxation when tense. I believe humor expert, Dr. David Fry,
noted that laughing with gusto is like turning your body into a big vibrator,
giving vital organs a brief but vibrant internal massage.
Affiliation. One manifestation of "emotional intelligence" is a capacity
for a humor that both heals and harmonizes, that reminds us of our common
humanity. As the early 20th century disabilities pioneer and
universally-acclaimed humanitarian, Helen Keller, observed: "The world is so
full of care and sorrow it is a gracious debt we owe one another to discover the
bright crystals of delight hidden in somber circumstances and irksome tasks."
On a more pedestrian level, healing humor not only reflects an ability to walk
in another's shoes, but especially to feel the other's bunions!
I = Incongruity and Imagination.
Incongruity. As mentioned, humor allows us to go beyond rigid "black or
white" and "all or none" thinking; it enables us to generate imaginative and
even paradoxical possibilities (such as my self-described professional label of
"Psychohumorist" ™). As the quintessential American humorist and satirist, Mark
Twain, ingenuously noted, "Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before
their union were not perceived to have any relation." Humor that plays with the
inconsistent, unexpected, and contradictory helps us think and laugh "out of the
Imagination. Let's keep pushing the humor envelope: research has even
linked humor to innovative problem-solving. One study revealed that people who
had just watched a short comedy film of television "bloopers" were better able
to find a creative solution to a puzzling problem than were people who had
watched a film about math (zzzzz!) or people who had exercised. Humor seems to
stimulate the right side of our brain allowing us to think more broadly, to
forge exaggerated and surprising possibilities, and to see complex and otherwise
L = Liberation and Letting Go.
Liberation. Humor often facilitates the discussion of a variety of subjects
that may be taboo or off limits, for example, sex, religion, or politics.
Speaking the unspeakable is now possible. Consider this example of both
liberation and its limits. Living in free-spirited New Orleans in the '80s, I
would close my stress programs with, "Laughter is the best tension reliever and
sex is second…So if you're having funny sex you probably are in good shape."
Now in the "Big Easy," that always got a hearty laugh. When I moved to more
politically correct, Washington, DC, in 1990 and attempted my "tried and
(slightly) blue" closing, the reaction was mixed; a lot more nervous laughter or
no laughter at all.
Soon I shifted my closing content, reciting the "Serenity Prayer": "Grant me
the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the
things I can, and the wisdom to know…where to hide the bodies." This witticism
definitely resonated with people daily fighting the bureaucratic beast.
(Obviously, while you might take the boy out of New Orleans, you can't take the
sassy, N'Awlins style out of the boy.)
Letting Go. Humor can help transform the serious into the silly, which
may facilitate self-acceptance. A classic example is 20th century man of
letters, Anatole France's, pithy observation staring at his reflection upon
turning seventy-five: "Mirrors just aren't what they used to be." He is
demonstrating the courage both to "let go" of the past and to accept a more
vulnerable image of self -- with warts and wrinkles, flaws and foibles.
However, Monsieur France's liberation, while personal, is not so singular. In
general, people are more open to a serious message when it's gift-wrapped with
S = Superiority and Solidarity.
Superiority. Humor is a potent vehicle for bringing down to earth
inflated egos and arrogant individuals. (Think of Will Rogers, George Carlin or
political cartoons.) Humor and the ensuing laughter may also provide the
productive release of frustration and anger. However, I must raise a cautionary
red flag: depending on a person's motives, humor can have a decidedly hostile
edge. Too often an individual or group uses humor as a weapon of attack or to
elevate one's own self-esteem or status at the expense of another party.
Still, there's real potential for healing when you can use harmonizing and
self-effacing humor to invert the superiority function. Sometimes humor is used
to cajole, playfully tease or tickle a person out of a comfort zone, to have the
other join a group’s position or perspective. (Alas, hazing humor may be more
humiliating than humbling.) Conversely, a motivational humorist may poke fun at
his or her own vulnerabilities or imperfections (or to vividly illustrate having
been down and out) to help affirm another's sense of self or to aid recovery
from setback while reducing polarizing status distinctions. In addition,
laughing at oneself is a protective vest for blunting hostile slings and
arrows. Remember, an ability to laugh at your own flaws and foibles means
beating those biased, judgmental, "know it all" critics to the punch line:
"Believe me; I can poke fun of myself a lot better than you ever can!" And
these antagonists have lost their favorite target -- an oversensitive ego.
Here's a personal example. In my stress seminars, when hair loss is mentioned
as a sign of stress my immediate response, using an exaggerated tone, is, "I
resemble that remark." This is followed by: "You all should have more respect
for my (vanishing) hair. It was recently listed in the World Wildlife
Federation's 'endangered species' list."
Finally, I believe there is no better way of inducing a sense of "solidarity"
than when fellow sufferers can laugh together and through mutual openness
realize a common fate -- the journey along the evolutionary path of becoming
"learners not losers."
In closing, perhaps the pioneering film genius, Charlie Chaplin, succinctly
captured the basic and broad purpose of humor:
A paradoxical thing is that
in making comedy, the tragic is precisely that which
arouses the funny…we have
to laugh due to our helplessness in the face of
natural forces and (in
order) not to go crazy.
Hopefully, you can discover and design your own Motivational Humor Path and can
help yourself and others…Practice