I was in the second year of running the firm on my own.
It was a weekday afternoon. Maybe around three’ish. Don’t remember the day.
There was a stillness in the air.
I was standing at my desk typing intently away when I heard a loud burst of laughter. It came from the room next door where all four of my lawyers sat in their respective cubicles together, in what I call our office area. I heard their collective riotous laughter rip through the quiet.
It was not unusual every now and then to hear a burst or waft of laughter in the office area from my room. But that day it was particularly loud and went on for a bit. From the sound, timbre, and texture of their laughter, it must have been a really funny incident or event.
Even though the laughter ebbed, it grated me as I did my work. The more I thought about it, the greater the grating grew.
Here I am doing my work while my lawyers are having a laugh in the room next door. Hell, I don’t even get the benefit of hearing the damn joke. This is completely out of line. There should be no more laughing during office hours! Lawyers should be only work during office hours! Our work is serious so the environment should be too. They are not here for fun and games. I am not paying them to come into the office to have a good time!
By the time I finished my thought, I was thoroughly annoyed. I was going to go over and hurl them a piece of my mind.
I moved from my table. I took a deep breath and blew the air out of my nose to brace myself for the encounter. Then took another and then another, and then another. Instead of energizing me to go over, I heard a different voice in my head.
What’s wrong with a bout of laughter between colleagues? Isn’t that a good thing? Laughter is an indicator they get along. It suggests things are well between them. Those that laugh together, enjoy each other. And doesn’t the sound of laughter cast a warm glow over the office environment. Doesn’t it leave everyone with a fuzzy, feel-good feeling? That’s what I want, right? A warm, cozy, feel-good environment? Laughter is a good thing. Don’t go over there and kill a good thing. Why do you want to do a stupid thing like that?
That stopped me in my tracks. I felt the annoyance and anger dissipate.
I walked back to my desk and continued my work.
I reflected often on that moment of restraint after. Looking back, I recognized that as one of those tiny pivotal moments in my life that had a significant and lasting impact on my approach to the kind of environment I wanted to create in the office. I also recognized what those two voices represented for me.
The first voice was the old school senior lawyer-type attitude I was not unfamiliar with. Senior lawyer bosses generally expected lawyers to be around at their beck and call. If we were not in the office it was likelier we were playing truant than improving ourselves. We were not at work to have fun but to keep quiet and do our work efficiently. Stay late if you have to but you still have to come in on time in the morning. Our opinions should be oriented towards confirming their views instead of advancing our own.
As the senior boss’s son, I received it to a much lesser degree, of course, but I was sensitive to it. I saw and heard over the years about how it was for the other pupils and lawyers in other law firms.
The second voice had a counter-intuitive feel to it. But the more I thought about it, the second voice was more attuned with my outlook and sense of how things should be. Those moments of shared pleasure between colleagues are important building blocks to a warm and efficient working relationship. They complement and ornament conversations between colleagues. They are the drops of glue that better bonds relationships.
The greater the frequency, quality, and openness of communication between us, the better the quality of our relationships. Quality relationships are the foundation on which to build trust. It is from those web of trust relationships that we get real efficiency.
When we trust each other, things move quickly. There are fewer barriers to communication between us. We deal with each other plainly instead of strategically. We anticipate instead of suspecting each other. Trust creates room and space to tell each other our errors and failures instead of hiding them. Trust sets the foundation for a full and frank discussion. It is easier to encourage spontaneous order and effective efficiency with trust.
Since then, I left the days to go by as they should. I have learned to appreciate the sound of laughter in the office. Whether it is between colleagues, my colleagues with a client, it doesn’t matter. I welcome and encourage it. In fact, I love having a laugh myself every day. Several, if possible. And those laugh out loud, quiet-bursting, thigh-slapping, belly trembling kinds of laughs. You know, the big ones. Whether I am the cause or consequence of it, it does not matter.
That we all can have a good laugh and a good laugh together is very important to creating a welcoming, warm and efficient office environment. Hell, it just makes the day more fun. A day punctuated with laughter feels like a day out with friends. It makes the office feel a lot less like one and a whole lot more like a den for friends.
A day filled with laughter has always more good in it than a day without. An office with laughter has a lot more fun, pleasure, and efficiency than an office without.
A life with laughter is more beautiful and pleasurable than a life without.