You know the type: the guy or gal who loves to keep people laughing and has a joke for every situation.

That's Stan.

He has an uncanny ability to jump in right at the moment when a meeting is ready to explode with conflict. Recently he stopped a tense time with, "Hey did you hear the one about...”

The new hire holding up the assembly line in a Tickle-Me Elmo factory. The supervisor wonders why she is taking so long. She’s sewing little cloth bags containing two walnuts on the Elmo dolls at the appropriate place. And the boss says, "Hey, all I wanted you to do was give Elmo Two TEST TICKLES!"

Funny? It came out of left field and while there were a few who laughed, many rolled their eyes or made nasty comments under their breath. The flow of the meeting was squashed and it took time to bring the group back to focus.

That's the problem with Stan.

Almost all office clowns are well-meaning. They want to find a way to get everyone to collaborate. Yet, they have an aversion to the tension–any tension. Missing is a deeper understanding of why Stan is so compelled to stop the discomfort in the room. He just knows that laughter is good.

And yes, laughing is good for us. It enhances memory, improves judgment, makes us more willing to think in new ways, and make better decisions.

Laughter can train the brain to be nimble. It helps you think on your feet. It is an important aspect of cognitive flexibility, the ability to take new information and apply it to information you already know.

What does Stan need to learn?

During executive coaching Stan asked the BIG question. He wanted to understand why he was so determined to divert stress. He was finally able to connect the dots when he realized that as a kid his role was to lighten up sad situations at home. His chronically ill mother was in and out of the hospital and he hoped to bring laughter to his family. This kind of behavior can become a behavior pattern. In Stan’s case, it worked at school also, where Stan gained recognition as the class clown.

Using humor to evoke change is healthy. When the clown can diminish personal anxiety by jumping in with a joke, there is the possibility of making a significant contribution at work.

Stan moved from clown to humorist.

Stan learned the important differences between a clown and a humorist: timing and content. Clowns divert. Humorists encourage. A humorist helps us laugh at ourselves and look for new ways of solving problems. Humorists pick content that will teach and their timing is exquisite.

Stan got it!

Stan made the shift. His leadership stock went way up. He now encourages his team to identify what behavior patterns show up for them when stress hits that hot button. The clown-turned-humorist now makes a positive difference at work. It helps them stay stay calmer, on purpose, and think more effectively.

YOU can get it too!

Do you have a class clown in YOUR workplace? You can help by suggesting they look at what happens when the need to jump in and stop the tension takes over. Take them aside and ask an open ended question like, "Where do you think this behavior pattern started?" In doing so, you can help somebody make the shift from an obstacle to an asset for creativity and collaboration.