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Finding The Exit In The Haunted House

I’ll be honest with you.  This is the craziest, most conflicted, divisive, alarming era I have experienced:

  • A brutal pandemic that keeps pulling us back into its orb…even when we think we’ve gotten past it
  • Repeated seismic shocks to the economy
  • Rampant wildfires in part of the country with historically devastating hurricanes and floods in other parts
  • Divisiveness over things like masks and vaccines that make you feel like you’re taking your life in your hands just to go to the grocery store
  • Return to school marred by fistfights at school board meetings
  • Toxic politics and social media that cause people to quit watching news and defriend family and longtime friends just to find some peace and quiet
  • A messy end full of controversy and division to our longest war
  • And on and on and on

It’s not Halloween yet…but it feels like we’re trapped in an eternal 24/7 haunted house with no way out.

How can we find—or create—an exit to this frightening house of horrors?  How do we get some relief from the ambient stress all around us?  And, as leaders, how do we bring that relief to our teams, our organizations, and our customers?

Two simple principles hold the key…and they are principles you can implement for yourself and your organizations today:  Laughter and connection.


My father’s family, whom I adored, were, objectively speaking, a mess.  They layered on calamity after calamity.  Visiting them as a child, the conversation might go like this:

Little Carol, “How’s everything, Aunt Alice?”

Aunt Alice, “Oh, sweetie, your uncle Walt’s back in jail, Aunt Trudy’s not speaking to anyone again, she’s back on the bottle, Willy got another divorce, Uncle Arn lost his job, your Grandpa got excommunicated by the church again.  You know, the usual.”  (All true statements, by the way.)

Little Carol, “Aunt Alice, that’s just terrible!!”

Aunt Alice, “Well, you gotta laugh, kid; you gotta laugh.”

And that advice from my Aunt Alice is some of the best advice I’ve ever been given and it has never been more relevant than now.”

Here’s why it’s important:  when we laugh, the chemistry of the brain changes.  Your brain is suddenly bathed in dopamine, serotonin and endorphins and as a consequence, you become more optimistic, a better problem solver, more creative, more aware of your surroundings.  When you are stressed, frightened, and angry, other chemicals—like adrenaline and norepinephrine–bathe your brain, reaping the exact opposite of all those good things.

But how do you laugh when you don’t see anything funny?  Well…you make yourself laugh.

  • The great comedian Steve Martin has said that when he wakes up, he doesn’t feel funny.  So he goes to the bathroom mirror, looks at himself and belly laughs.  And he makes himself laugh until he feels funny.  Try it!
  • There is a legit practice called “Laughter Yoga,” in which a group of people just laugh and laugh and act silly.  And at the end of a session, they feel better, happier, more optimistic.  The teams I have used Laughter Yoga with not only loved it…they remembered it years later.  Try it with your team.
  • Did you know you can ask Siri to tell you a joke?  Her jokes aren’t half bad!  Do a riff on this and send your team a funny video, a Saturday Night Live sketch, a funny article.  If worse comes to worse, send them all a funny dog video from the web.  The point is:  Get creative on getting funny.

And now…Connection
When people are really scared, what do they do?   They hold hands!   They instinctively reach out to each other.  They lock arms.  They hold each other tight. 

Such a simple thing…and so powerful.   Even in these chaotic times…in fact, ESPECIALLY in these chaotic times, we need to hold hands and lock arms with each other.  When you can literally reach out and touch someone, that is powerful.  But it’s just as powerful to say:  “I’m here for you.  I’ve been thinking about you.  How are you doing?  How are the kids holding up?”

There is nothing simpler and more powerful that a leader can do for team members and colleagues than to CONNECT.

And if you are in a position to do so, providing the occasional mental health day, lunch, or happy hour underscores to your team that you care about them.

Where’s the exit to the Haunted House of today?  You’ll have to create it, because this haunted house doesn’t have an exit.  But you can build a nice wide exit by intentional laughter and consistent connection.

Austin, Texas

Santa Fe, New Mexico

(512) 498-9780

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