Lighten Up with a Laugh

I had an opportunity last week to Emcee a conference at Microsoft and to deliver the opening keynote. There were more than 150 high-level female managers from Oracle, KPMG, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Wells Fargo, Semantech, Deloitte, etc.

The topic was CLOUT! Power, Influence and Authority for Women Leaders. Based on interviews with executives across the country, I shared 10 Behaviors that Undermine Clout — and 10 Behaviors that Add Clout.

One of the points was the power of lightening up instead of tightening up.

Many of the male decision-makers I talked with told me they feel women in upper ranks tend to take themselves too seriously. Perhaps they’re so intent on proving themselves, they lose their ability to take a a joke.

I illustrated the advantage of rolling with the punch-lines rather than taking offense with the following example.

Have you seen the movie Charlie Wilson’s War with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts?

Charlie Wilson was a Texas legislator. As a Washington Post article revelaed, Wilson arrived in Congress with his cowboy boots and big booming laugh. He soon met another freshman Democrat — Colorado feminist Patricia Schroeder — and sent her a gift. She opened it and found a picture in a pink frame which showed a tombstone that read “Wife of Davy Crockett.” He had included a note that read: “In Texas, we don’t even let women use their first name on their tombstones.”

Schroeder thought, ‘Who IS this Neanderthal?” and stormed into his office to give him a piece of her mind. The second he saw her march in, Wilson burst out laughing. She realized, “He’s spent his whole life figuring out how to pull people’s chains — and now he’s pulling mine.”

She started laughing too and they became fast friends. After that he called this high-profile feminist “Baby cakes” – except on formal occasions, when he addressed her as “Congressman Babycakes.”

Pearl S. Buck said, “Perhaps one has to become very old before one learns how to be amused rather than offended.”

Why wait?

If someone is trying to “get your goat,” it’s in your best interest to give as good as you get. Come up with a come-back so people can’t push your hot buttons. Once you demonstrate you have the ability to take a joke, people will laugh with you rather than at you.

1 Comment
  1. I rarely find myself noticing when men are being sexist or derogatory around women. I have had people point out situations to me, where that may have happened, but for whatever reason, it is not one of my sticking points. I believe it is because I see myself beyond that behavior.

    BUT – this blog reminds me of a time when I was able to deflect a potentially embarrasing situation… meeting humor, with humor. When I was in high school, I was standing in the lunchline. Behind me was a very attractive upper classman, who I knew of, but didn’t know personally. He looked over at me and asked, “Would you like to go out with me?” I was mortified. He was popular, and attractive, and like many high school girls, my self esteem was in the gutter, so I knew he must be joking. Should I cry? Scream? Run Away? Accept, and see what happens?

    I chose none of these. For whatever reason, the perfect answer came in the words, “Maybe Tomorrow.” He smiled, and started laughing. So, too, did I. The mood eased, and the most awkward moment of my life was averted.

    These words are forever memorialized on my license plate and one of my personal email addresses: mab2mro.

    Sam, thanks for bringing back that memory. I will need to catch that movie when it comes out on DVD.

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