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Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ® ... a Culture of Results & Engagement®

Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #94
(September 29, 2020)

Levity is the Remedy!


This simple—but very cogent—message was written on a piece of paper and handed to me off-camera during a virtual meeting I had with a group of executives last week. As background, my wife (and Sage-at-my-Side) pays particular attention to those times when I go 'cerebral' and forget to be 'human.' The topic of this particular virtual meeting wasn't at all contentious—or stressful for that matter—but it was intense with lots of moving parts. She had noticed the telltale signs ... a tightness in my jaw; eyes that didn't blink; a voice that was too measured and firm; barely discernible breathing. I had become a cerebral robot.

But that single word—"Smile!"—on a single piece of paper, snapped me back. I was able to pause; take a deep breath; blink; mentally step back and reassess; and, yes, put a smile on my face and into my voice. Human again.

Intensity in many job functions is a given, especially when the stakes are high and the demands great. And COVID hasn't helped. But what makes this especially problematic are the large number of employees who take themselves, and their work, too seriously. Please understand where I'm heading with this ... employees need to take their priorities and responsibilities seriously, but there's a point when this can become unhealthy.

This is when you, a manager with keen observation skills, need to step in and break up this intensity with a little bit of levity. I'm not talking about silly games or gestures (trust me, the intense people I'm referring to will not appreciate it). What I'm referring to are small, impactful hits of levity delivered in a professional way. I know this may sound a bit "woo-woo" for some of you, but have you ever noticed how smiles and laughter are infectious? I find it truly remarkable how just one person can increase the energy in a room with their positive mood and behavior.

Are you that person?

What's ironic is when managers use levity to counteract the negative influence of overwhelming intensity, they actually become more likeable—with measurable differences in traditional engagement scores—while still maintaining respect and influence. I know I've run into a caring and empathetic leader when I hear employees say that their manager "makes us laugh at ourselves when we're being too serious."

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

The ongoing struggle between intensity and levity is described beautifully with this very apt adage: "It's easy to be heavy, but hard to be light." This week (starting today), look for these HVA opportunities to add some levity to your team's work (you'll be glad you did!):

  • YOU Set the Tone: We all come to work with some degree of levity in our core, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. With that said, workplace social protocols often lead to conformity and adherence to more-serious professional standards. While "fitting in" may seem like the safest route for employees, conformity significantly reduces creativity and teamwork—which makes for a pretty stale working environment. As you keep your team focused on the priorities at hand, look for ways to inject some levity into the mix. As your team becomes comfortable with this 'appropriately lighthearted' approach, they're more likely to be creative, share ideas, and care about the success of the organization.
  • If You Don't Have a "HaHa" ... Try an "AHA": Humorless work environments aren't exactly neutral—they can quickly become pretty flat, somber, and dull. There's a ton of research data demonstrating that humor doesn't just make workplaces happier, healthier places, it also engages people at a higher level and overall productivity improves. But what if you're saying to yourself—as I have often done—"But I'm not a comedian; I'm not that funny." That's okay because it's a lot easier to embrace the concept of "AHA" funny, which is entirely different from "HaHa" funny. Both can work but the latter ("HaHa") is more about jokes, while the former ("AHA") is more about wit. Do whatever you're comfortable with, and don't be afraid to laugh at yourself—self-deprecating humor is a powerful way to make yourself more approachable and open up the door to more employee-sponsored levity. [Note: If you're looking for an example of "AHA" humor, here's an example that addresses the current work-from-home circumstances: "All this time I thought that the clothes-dryer was shrinking my clothes. Turns out it was actually the refrigerator." ]
  • VABEs Levity: I've referred to the powerful influence of VABEs (Values, Assumptions, Beliefs, Expectations) many times in previous issues of CORE Bites. Because VABEs drive the majority of human behavior, it's important to gauge readiness for levity by observing how each of your employees respond to various types of levity. Those who value levity tend to gravitate toward those who enjoy a good story and laughing together. Try a few of these questions: "What could be a fun way to solve this problem?" or "What could be a fun stretch goal in this moment?" or "What could you do differently to make the situation lighter and more inspiring for others?"

I'd love to hear how these HVAs work for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"The law of levity is allowed to supersede the law of gravity."

— R. A. Lafferty —