Keeping it Light
I once created an engineer performance grading system to help management understand when an engineer was ready to be promoted from junior, full, senior, and through to principal. There were seven criteria, one of which was “Grace Under Pressure”. As you become more experienced, your ability to deal with the pressure of tight deadlines, fluctuating requirements, and idiot co-workers should increase as you find creative ways to cope with the stress. Dealing with stress becomes the hallmark of someone with a lot of experience. One of the best ways to deal with stress, I think, is humor.
I have been accused a few times of being “intense”, and it’s probably a label that I deserve. I love my line of work, and attack it like something I’m deeply passionate about. However, that passion can come across like a stream of scaling hot water shooting out of a fire hose (phrasing?). No matter the topic, if I’m asked a tough question about a tough problem, you’re going to have to strap in for a bumpy ride (phrasing!). Knowing this, I always try my best to lighten the mood either before or after my onslaught, as I know that people can get hurt, and little pain relief goes a long way when the pressure is starting to mount (phrasing!!!).
There are people who let their stress fester, and it leaks out in strange and unexpected ways. Perhaps it’s a question that comes across more as an accusation, or an email with a harsh tone, or “Come to Jesus” meeting for a trivial issue. When you see the tell-tale sights of stress, be the class clown. Anything that will cause people to chuckle, giggle or belly laugh will do. If you’re no comedian, give this a try: Next time there’s a pause in a tense conversation try a “Ain’t this a b**ch” or in your most melodramatic tone, “So, it has come to this.” You might just be making someones day, and if you do it consistently enough, saving the project.