Is Your Humor a Safe Bet?

by Karyn Buxman, MSN, CSP, CPAE

Mike was meeting a new client over lunch. He wanted to make a great impression, so he planned is presentation carefully, wore his best suit, and practiced a couple jokes that were sure to win the client over.

The lunch was delicious. His pitch for the new product was perfect. The he wrapped it up by adding, “Oh, by the way, did you hear about the blonde who was so dumb. . . she thought Taco Bell was the Mexican phone company.”

The client laughed, shook hands, and said how much he appreciated the meeting. Mike calculated dollar signs all the way home. But he didn’t land the contract. And the client never told him how much the joke had offended him.

Humor: A must for any successful person in business. But it’s a double-edge sword. One of the great advantages of humor in regards to customer service and sales is its social function: It can establish, build and strengthen alliances. But use humor that turns your customer off or insults them and it can ruin a relationship.

Humor has too many advantages not to use it as part of your craft. Realistically, however, there’s always some risk involved when using humor. And I know first hand that there are some folks on the planet who are just looking for an opportunity to be insulted. But when it comes to customer service and sales, you can make your humor a safer B.E.T. by keeping three things in consideration: Bond, Environment, and Timing.

Bond: The stronger your relationship and rapport is with the recipient of your humor, the more successful you’ll be. How well do you know one another? Is there a mutual perception of the connection between the two of you?

It’s been said that actor/comedian George Burns made a visit to a nursing home to entertain residents there. He walked up to a little old woman in her wheelchair, leaned toward her and teased, “Do you know who I am?”

The lady studied him for a moment and then answered cautiously, “No, but if you ask that nice nurse up at the front desk, I bet she could tell you.”

If the recipients of your humor are busy trying to size up your relationship, the humor may go right over their head.

Environment: Anyone who sees your humor, hears your humor, or participates in your humor is part of your humor environment, regardless of whether or not that was your intention.

Dan manned his trade booth, ready to share information about the new product line, when lo and behold, his old college roommate, Roger, walked up front and center. They reminisced about the good old days and then started tossing one liners and jokes at each other. Dan was so busy telling Roger the one about the brunette, the redhead, and the dumb blonde, that he didn’t notice the association attendee patiently standing by, thumbing through the literature. Upon hearing his joke, she shook her head and moved on.

The humor you share may be just right for the intended audience, but if it isn’t appropriate for your entire audience, save it for later.

Timing: There’s two aspects of timing to keep in consideration. The first has to do with the manner in which you tell the humor. It’s such a drag to listen to someone drone on and on, jumping back and forth in the story, and then massacre the punch line. Some people are naturals at joke telling. For others, it’s an acquired skill. If it doesn’t come easily to you, practice your joke aloud, in front of mirror, at least seven times. Then go out and share it at every appropriate opportunity. And if jokes aren’t your bag, no problem. We all have an abundant resource of funny stories that happened to us, a coworker, a friend, a family member, etc. Practice telling the story out loud, and cut out any parts that aren’t crucial. As Shakespeare so wisely said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

The other aspect of timing has to do with the relationship of the humor to an event. Most, if not all, humor comes from pain or discomfort, whether it’s yours or someone else’s. If it’s someone else’s, a certain amount of time needs to elapse before he or she sees the humor in the situation. It gets a little tricky, as the amount of time required for each person varies. When in doubt, let the other person signal the “all clear.”

Mary returned to the conference room after the break and resumed her place by the flip-chart. It was several moments before she realized, that when using the ladies room, she had tucked her skirt into the back of her panty hose. Red-faced, she excused herself from the room and pulled herself back together. Not a word was mentioned, until after lunch when Mary looked at the people seated around the table and said, “You know, Mom was right. It’s always important to wear clean underwear. You just never know when you’re gonna be in an accident!” Everyone burst out laughing and began sharing their own most embarrassing moment.

When humor happens by chance, it’s delightful. But there are too many advantages to wait for it to happen circumstantially. Be proactive and make humor one of your many tools for success. Occasionally you may stumble and skin your knees, but get right back up and try again. And remember, while there is always some risk involved, you can increase your odds for success by making your humor a safe B.E.T.

A highly sought humorist and nationally recognized expert in therapeutic humor, Karyn Buxman, RN, MSN, CSP, CPAE helps people achieve balance through stress management techniques, including humor. To sign up for her free bi-weekly e-zine, LyteBytes, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.HumorHabit.com

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Copyright 2005 by Karyn Buxman, MSN, CSP, CPAE. Reprinted with permission. Karyn Buxman is a talented and funny motivational speaker. For more information visit her website at www.humorx.com