Humor Helps Us Build Bridges

  • John Wagner, Plenary Speaker, NACADA National Conference, October 2004

    From: National Academic Advising Association Newsletter
    Volume 27, No. 3, September 2004

    Advising higher education students is important work and is fast becoming stressful work. Students have higher service expectations while administration applies cost containment pressure: “do more with less, faster, with higher quality.” Information technology conversions, new releases, and upgrades constantly challenge us to use IT to better to serve students. The positive power of humor can help us avoid stress, stay balanced, and ready to have fun designing and building bridges to success for our students.

    Let’s look at “The Three Rs”—Responsibility, Relationships, and Recognition—in using humor in our important work.


    Each of us has a choice about all that we do. Because we have a choice, we have response-ability: the ability to choose our response to the challenges we will face. But we can take ourselves lightly while we take our jobs, life, and responsibilities seriously. If you experience a failure or setback, accept responsibility, laugh it off, learn from it, and do all you can to make it right quickly. If you experience a conflict, don’t turn it into a contest with a win or lose outcome. Use your sense of humor to become flexible enough to use the energy of the conflict to creatively generate positive possibilities. Laughter helps us flex and loosen up; it is healing. When you choose to laugh more, all you can lose is some body fluids. Remember to laugh!


    Positive, supportive, and cooperative relationships are essential for success. We can control only ourselves; we can only influence others. When we try to control or force others to change, we risk losing control of ourselves. Positive humor is a powerful influence. Be happier by being an encourager of others; believe in and encourage yourself. It is more fun, productive, and efficient to work playfully with others toward a common goal. Choose to accept that each of us is a unique and special person with our own view of life. Learn to celebrate the uniqueness, and look for the common thread of humanity that connects us all. Positive humor and smiling enhances communication. When you smile, get your whole face into it; raise your eyebrows, it will make you look taller. Remember to smile!


    High self-esteem will enhance achievement. Build self-esteem by recognizing all positive efforts. (Especially those little efforts, they add up.) Be an encourager. The best way to raise your self-esteem is to raise someone else’s. Use positive humor to make recognition more acceptable and meaningful. Use humor to accept reality, maintain a positive perspective, and build bridges to a future successful reality. Be optimistic and joyful. Replace all pity parties with effort recognition events. Recognition only works with three types of people—men, women, and children. Remember to celebrate! There is a choice in everything you do. Keep in mind that the choices you make—make you. Choose to Laugh, Smile, and Celebrate as you build those bridges.