When I was a kid, my teachers labeled me the class clown. I wasn’t one for long winded jokes, but I was always ready with a snappy comeback, a sarcastic comment or a funny observation. My classmates loved my wisecracks, but I have to admit that I spent more time honing my sense of humor than reading my textbooks.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve held onto my wisecracking ways and yet, I’ve been successful in business.
Research confirms that my success isn’t just an accident (though of course I like to think that I am exceptionally witty). According to a study conducted by the Harvard and University of Pennsylvania business schools, using humor effectively can actually bolster your status at work. If you can make people laugh, they’ll think you are more competent and confident than you might actually be.
“If you are brave enough to tell the joke you want to tell, whether it succeeds or not, people ascribe confidence to you because they see you as efficacious” for taking the risk, considering all the ways a joke can go poorly, said one of the study’s co-authors, Allison Wood Brooks of the Harvard Business School.
I’ve experienced this firsthand. Back when I had a corporate job, I showed up for one of my first senior level meetings and sat waiting for the meeting to start. The room was silent. It was weird, and I felt uncomfortable, so I said something funny. I asked these senior level execs how their weekend was. They looked at me like I had two heads, but I ignored them and went on to tell a funny tale about my own weekend. Lucky for me, they laughed, and the funny remarks I made during that meeting made a big difference in my career.
Since then, I’ve learned that it’s good to use your sense of humor in business. I don’t think people do it enough. If you can make people laugh, they’ll enjoy being around you, and they’ll want to do business with you.
The Harvard and Penn study bears this out. Interestingly, though, the study found that telling a joke that flops doesn’t hurt your status as much as you’d think because you’re still seen as a confident risk taker. But if you use humor inappropriately – say, making a joke about 9/11 while visiting a Manhattan skyscraper – your status can fall dramatically!
My Tips for Using Humor When Conducting Business
After a lifetime of wisecracking my way through business meetings, presentations and the like, I have some advice on when to use humor for the greatest impact:
- When you’re building a relationship. Bantering with clients helps “break the ice” and create a better rapport. If someone likes you, they’re more likely to trust you and want to do business with you.
- When you’re giving a speech. People remember things better when they’ve had a good laugh, so I try to get the audience laughing at my keynote speeches. Since I work in the customer experience field, I’m always able to find a funny story of a customer’s terrible experience!
- When you need the audience to focus on something serious. This sounds counter-intuitive, but if you’re making serious points, audiences can start to tune you out. Throw in a joke and they’re more likely to stay engaged long enough to take in the real message. In our Customer Experience Management Training, we use stories of truly horrendous customer experiences to get them laughing while also absorbing a key concept.
- When you want to create a better work environment. No job is fun all the time, and humor can do a lot to lighten the workplace atmosphere. And a happier environment means a more engaged, cooperative and productive team.
Making Humor Part of Your Customer Experience
When you use humor in your customer experience, you trigger an emotional reaction in your customer, whether it’s amusement, surprise or delight. These positive emotions engage customers in ways that add value to your business. Here are some ways to incorporate humor into your customer experience:
- Find the right time and place. Wisecracks may not be well-received if they come from the representative who handles customer complaints. But your customers may love funny quips from front-line staff.
- Always be tasteful. Remember that inappropriate jokes reduce your status. That goes for your brand as well as you. Train employees on what’s tasteful and what’s not, and especially avoid jokes that can demean or insult any group of people.
- Be natural. Scripted jokes don’t go as well as natural and genuine banter that lets personalities shine.
- Laugh with them, not at them. You can joke about yourself, but never make jokes at other people’s expense.
Humor is a great business tool that’s not used nearly enough. It can improve your status within an organization, help you win more business, and strengthen your relationship with customers. And I for one would enjoy having more business people to joke around with.
How do you use humor in your business? Tell me about it in the comments box below.
Join our Value-ology webinar on 30th March 2017 to learn how to create and deliver best value for your customers.
If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:
Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX