“A little bit of humor can go a long way – especially when tension is high.”— Misti Burmeister

Ever had to deal with stressed-out employees who clearly need more sleep, food, or maybe just some chocolate? Have you found an effective way to shift their spazzed-out energy?

Some people are incredibly effective at releasing the pressure valve of worry, using invaluable strategies and insights we can all learn from and incorporate into our leadership styles.

My vet is one of those people.

A few days ago, I noticed my cat, Everest, scratching at my carpet, almost like it was a litter box. That’s not normal behavior for her, so I examined the spot where she’d been scratching. Not seeing anything, I swiped my hand across the carpet … and realized she had peed right there.

Knowing this is a clear sign something is wrong, I immediately called my vet, who told me to get a urine sample and bring Everest in.

A urine sample from a cat?! Right!

I tried telling her, “Here, Everest, take this into the bathroom and give me as much pee as you can. Thank you!”

When that strategy didn’t work, I put her in her little cage and drove 30 minutes to the vet’s office while she cried and shook the whole time. It wasn’t much fun for either of us, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

When we arrived, the staff had me take her right back and put her cage on the examination table.

Soon the vet entered the room and asked, “Why did you bring her in today?”

“She’s peeing on the carpet,” I said.

As I watched him start to open the cage, I worried how Everest would react. Sensing my concern, he stopped, looked at me, and said, “Didn’t you teach her better?”

I couldn’t help but laugh, which helped me relax and answer all his questions in a calm manner. When I relaxed, Everest did, too, which made the rest of the visit a much more pleasant experience for all of us.

A little bit of humor can go a long way – especially when tension is high. Of course, releasing the pressure valve with humor is not the same thing as mocking people, making fun of them, or making light of the situation.

Here’s what made the vet’s humor so effective with me that day:

  • Presence: He met me where I was and took a minute to make eye contact. His calm demeanor comforted me, reassuring me I didn’t need to be so worried. 
  • Focus: His focus was on helping me (and Everest) have the best possible experience, considering the circumstances. 
  • No Hidden Agenda: As a volunteer vet at this shelter, he had absolutely no hidden agenda, which left me feeling confident in his diagnosis and treatment. (Everest just had a bladder infection and is doing fine now.) 

When distressed team members come to you for help, consider taking the same approach. First, check for any hidden agenda you might have … and then check it at the door. Then, connect with them, listen to their concerns, and focus on finding a way to help them deal with the problem at hand. And if you can find a way to inject some humor and put them at ease, that’s even better. Laughter is, after all, the best medicine.

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Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations and Hidden Heroes

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