02 Feb 2017

Clowning around: relieving stress at the international office

As practitioners of internationalisation, we all know times of high pressure, team tensions, or intercultural difficulties. The paperwork is piling up; deadlines have to be met; colleagues, students, and researchers need your attention; and with a single phone call, any of the world’s crises might come right to your desk. It is easy to get stressed out, and you probably know all too well how it feels to be under pressure, tense, annoyed and edgy, and even isolated from your colleagues. In this blog post, I would like to introduce you to a very special technique: the red-nose principle!
 

When we’re stressed out, we’re not as efficient as we’d like to be. Meanwhile, when we feel relaxed and happy, we can get much more done. The amount of work is still the same, but we perform better, simply because we feel better! How much better would it be for our daily routines if we could always be in a state of serenity and peacefulness? Everyone can benefit from relieving stress in order to be better team players, and to perform with more ease. But how do we achieve this state of mind?

The red-nose principle

The red-nose principle might just be what you need to spark up your daily routine, be a better manager, and build a trusting team. In my spare time, I’ve been training to become a clown. To my utter surprise, I recently realised that the lessons I learned in my clowning classes actually helped me a great deal with my daily work at the international office. It all comes down to four simple clowning principles that I hope can be helpful in your daily routine also.
 
Before I share these principles with you, let’s get one thing clear: a clown’s perspective at the office work does not require big shoes, elaborate make-up, or a wig. The essence of clowns does not lie in cracking jokes, walking around in big shoes, or pouring paint over each other’s heads. A clown is not a role you learn and act out – it is an attitude! You come into a ‘state of clown’, and being in this state will help you stay sane and function better in a team.

Principle #1: commitment

Clowns do everything with unshakeable commitment. They love everything they do, they want to succeed in it, and therefore, they concentrate on the task at hand to the fullest. This unquestioning confidence also leads to a very short memory: past failure does not stop a clown!
 
Clowns always want to do exactly what they are doing in this particular moment. Instead of thinking about all the things on your to-do-list, about what went wrong in the last meeting, or why the task you are carrying out might be pointless: commit yourself to what you are doing at this very moment, and do it with your whole heart, as if it were the best that could happen to you!

Principle #2: play

Principle one seems easy, but what if the task at hand is, for example, entering 2675 Erasmus students’ data into a database? Here, principle two comes in handy: everyday tasks are extraordinary, because clowns play with everything they find, and they also propagate this playfulness among others.
 
But what about the boring data entry task? Since you have to do it anyways, you might as well be entertained by it – turn it into a game! For every birth date where the cross total is 9, shout out “bingo!” If a birthday is the same as yours, jump up from your chair and sing “Happy birthday”. Just be mindful of your office mate!

Principle #3: be a team player

Clowns are natural team players and they love their sidekicks – ie their colleagues. They are good at teamwork because they have the best intentions at heart and they wholeheartedly cherish differences! Since they know about their own weaknesses, they can accept those of others, making them stronger at co-working. So your colleague is a bubbly extrovert, talking loud and at length all the time, but you tend to be a quiet introvert? Embrace your differences, and laugh about each other rather than driving each other nuts. You make a great team – celebrate it!

Principle #4: stay positive

The last lesson you can learn from clowns is to not let life, or work, get you down. A clown always gets up and tries again, no matter how hard he falls. From the beginning, clowns take into account that they might fail, and they are at peace with their failure. Therefore, they are able to cope. For a clown, the only answer to life’s tragedy is comedy. And this is not because clowns are thoughtless, ignorant, or naïve. No, positivity is their way of coping, so they can remain strong.

Cope like a clown

Research has shown that laughing with your colleagues as little as twice a day can significantly reduce your stress levels. So why not add laughing to your daily to-do list? You and your whole team can profit from getting into the state of clown more often. Do things wholeheartedly. Turn boring tasks into a game. Celebrate your differences. And come to terms with your own failure. And while this might look good on paper, it can be hard to remind ourselves to be clowns when things get tricky. My trick is to keep a red nose handy.
 
That little red nose can be a great reminder of the clown principles. Put it in your desk drawer and take it out from time to time – or simply look at it when you open the drawer to take out paperclips. If you try the red-nose principle over the next month, I can promise you this: the red nose will not file your Erasmus agreements, it will not shush your loud colleague, and it will certainly not solve the world’s problems – but it will help you cope!
 
Britta is Head of Funding & Liaison Offices at the Center for International Cooperation, Germany