Let's start a quick quiz. Which of these words belong together: audit, smart, risk, controls, cool, systems, compliance, assurance, sexy, humour?
Resisting the cheesiness of sexy systems and cool controls, I contend they all belong together. We may not naturally put them together or hear them in the same breath and, to the outside world they may chime discordant, but we know the sheer bliss of hitting that sweet spot when it all comes together and life is good.
Over the last months, we've been examining resilience from a number of perspectives. This month's topic in many ways pulls together several of these strands; we are going to look at humour, fun and reward and their role in developing the resilient auditor.
Humour: the eighth factor
When Reivich and Shatte were researching their seminal work 'The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life's Hurdles', they actually identified eight core areas. The one that never made it into the book was humour. The thinking was that as there is no known way of training humour, it didn't belong with the other teachable, learnable attributes. Karen Reivich is on record as saying that while all eight are important, optimism, which is credited as number three on the list, is the most vital. So where does humour fit in?
'Playful humour enhances survival for many reasons' explains Al Siebert in The Survivor Personality . He explains that not only can 'laughing reduce tension to more moderate levels', but additionally 'playing with a situation makes a person more powerful than sheer determination'.
Are, in fact, humour and resilience, actually one and the same? What is humour but the ability to make light of real life? Humour is often dubbed as a coping mechanism (think of the escapism of a daft film to unwind after a long, demanding day); resilience as we know is more than merely coping, its thriving as well as surviving, and some commentators would put humour in the category of a basic human need.
'We are driven by five genetic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun', William Glasser, American psychiatrist.
Five genetic needs hard-wired into a brain that has evolved at a dramatically slower pace than the professional and social world around us; thankfully we now have neuroscience to support our understanding of what is going on in our mind and how we can nurture and extend its performance.
Our brains have evolved some, but we have pretty much the same equipment as our prehistoric ancestors; that is, a brain wired for survival, to dodge danger and seek out reward. When we find something amusing, it's not just our faces that light up. Our brains follow suit as testified by fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) which gives visibility to the increased activity in the reward centres. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, our natural feel-good chemicals, promoting our sense well-being and contributing to the management of pain.
In fact, humour can have wide-ranging therapeutic effects. A good laugh can relax the whole body, relieving physical tension and stress. It can also strengthen the immune system by reducing stress hormones and boosting infection-fighting defences and can protect the heart by improving the function of blood vessels and increasing blood flow. A sense of humour can be used to de-escalate a crisis, bond with others and help remind us what is important in life. It's a skill often associated with high emotional intelligence.
Fake it til you make it
But if you are a serious sort and feel you haven't got a sense of humour, is this really learnable?
Well, no harm in giving it a try, and you might have some fun along the way:
Smile please. Even a fake smile can release endorphins.You'll look and feel happier straight away and the faking might well lead to the real thing. (Tip: try smiling in the mirror!)
Humour resources. We are all different, so what makes you laugh is a matter of personal taste. Invest some time in building an accessible resource bank of what does it for you; TV shows, films, books or comedy sketches are all contenders.Listen to an audio book on the way home from work to unwind or try some stand up, observation comedy to remind you of our universal woes and their funnier side.
Find the funny. You may not find it if you are not looking but if you can raise you awareness of the benefits of humour you can become more switched on to finding different perspectives on difficult situations. Reframing your highly pressurised deadline count-down as an episode of a ridiculous sitcom can provoke laughter, raise energy levels and act as a connectivity exercise for the team to experience a shared joke.
Let's play a game. Another way to release tension and build a shared bond is to take an active and ongoing 'gaming' approach to difficult situations. You could be a lone gamer (a wry, secret smile as a response to tallying the number of office junk emails in a day) or find a team sport like competing for the most bizarre quote of the day.
And the health warning...
One of the greatest benefits of humour is that like resilience, it improves our well being through empowerment. But as a source of power, it can be misused. Sarcasm is not for nothing designated the 'lowest form of wit; it can easily be misinterpreted as unkind or hurtful. In fact anything that could be taken as potentially hostile or mocking should be scrupulously avoided. In the land of humour think things rather than people and you won't go far wrong!
Carol McLachlan FCA
Carol McLachlan, theaccountantscoach, is a qualified accountant, NLP Practitioner and professionally qualified coach. Her 18 year career at Ernst and Young in Audit and Assurance as a client handler and as Director of Resources has equipped her with a real understanding of the professional and personal issues that auditors face.
As theaccountantscoach she works in partnership with individuals and organisations - quite simply - helping them to be the very best they can be. She has helped accountants and auditors move from employment to entrepreneurial pursuits, prepare for their next promotion, become inspiring leaders and engaging presenters and manage their work life balance. Carol writes and lectures extensively on a wide range of professional development topics and is currently researching 'CPD in accountancy' for her master's degree.
For the agony aunt service on career issues, contact Carol here