Always phrase your own ideas as if someone else has said them. “It’s like John was saying … (YOUR IDEA)” or “Building on Brian’s thought … (YOUR IDEA)” or “Carolyn was on to something with … (YOUR IDEA).” Phrase your rejection of other people’s ideas in the form of baffling rhetorical questions: “Do you think if we did that it would fight the theme we’ve set up, or does that initiate a new paradigm?”
Remember that compliments cost you nothing. They’re like a wad of bills that never runs out. “Here’s a compliment for you, and one for you, and one for you. Why, my wallet is just full of these things!” Similarly, when something material and free comes along—passes to a movie premiere, a box of video games, assorted cupcakes—let the staff have first crack. If your team is still irritated with you, badmouth anyone not in the room. Dumping on an unseen third party or revealing tantalizing office gossip always takes the heat off for a few minutes. Though if you’re going to make fun of people who work for you, be prepared to be made fun of by them. No matter how mean it gets, have the thickest skin in the room. Reward the completion of assignments with YouTube (GOOG) clips: Key and Peele, octopus vs. shark, bank robbery fails. If nothing else works, stall till lunch. It’s hard to be full and angry.
• Selman is an executive producer of The Simpsons, where he has run writers’ rooms for 12 years.