Tuesday, February 19, 2008

'Knock Knock' 'Who's There?' 'Interrupting Cow' 'Interu--' 'MOOO!'

Another submission to my work newsletter, the topic is 'office relationships'. Hope you enjoy it.

Say 'office relationships' and images of recklessly placed mistletoe, a highball or five, and a wild Christmas party immediately come to mind. But 'office relationships' are more than just something to keep workplace lawyers employed. Being stuck in a basement with a thin shaft of sunlight and literally hundreds of hours of complete silence, I feel I'm uniquely able to speak on this topic.

One of the most important things to try and bring to the workplace, is a sense of humour; or a lighthearted approach to life; or at the absolute minimum, the ability not to scowl constantly while maintaining a blood-pressure that one might expect in a small steam engine. (This is what I've been told. Here in the Basement, humour is frowned upon; the merest glimmer of a smile is seen as a sign of weakness, and the offending programmer is often beaten with bludgeon-grade keyboards. We are a dour sort.)

But luckily, you most likely do not live by the arcane and unforgiving rules of the Basement. There is perhaps banter, maybe even repartee where you work, but then there are other things to consider. How far is too far (usually if you are asking this question, it is), did my coworker just laugh at that jest or is his chronic asthma kicking in, is it too soon to joke about the Lusitania?

Even before that, there is the question on when and how to open up the lines of humour, as it were. It can be a risky gamble, but if you're going to do any amount of work together, it's a good idea to at least try (for me, this was with coworkers outside of the Basement, I have no death wish). With one colleague I started ending each email using a classic line from an action movie (at the moment, however, I can't recall one that doesn't end with a terse yet colourful expletive). It made the endless amount of communication we had to do that much more bearable.

How to start? This is mainly an Art, there is no formula for starting a bit of fun. Start with a knock-knock joke (which might be a sign neither of you should be jesting), or maybe with latest poltical humour from The Economist (ditto). Everyone has a different humour level, for some, it's very low, for others, every interaction is an opportunity to do their impression of Rodney Dangerfield (and non-ironically do an even better impression of a certain regional manager of the Dunder Mifflin Scranton Branch), and still for others, any direct eye contact will send me scuttling to the safety of my dark, dank cubicle. I mean, for some people.

So, this is my call to bring humour, if only a little bit, back to the workplace. It'll make the day go faster, lower stress levels, and at least be a welcome distraction from the one time you had that fifth White Russian, bumped into the temp, and then noticed the mistletoe.

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