Humor Us: America’s Funniest Humorists on the Power of Laughter
Introduction to the Book | Sample Chapter by Brad Montgomery, CSP
Copyright ©2006 Brad Montgomery Productions
Long before I became a speaker, I was a comedian/magician. One day I was at the Post Office buying stamps. I had my paws full of press kits, and I was hoping that mailing out these envelopes would push my career to the next level. (To be honest, I was so desperate I’d have settled for pushing my career around the block.)
The postman behind the counter asked, “Flag stamps or love stamps?”
“Flag stamps,” I said. “These stamps are for business.”
“Oh? You can’t have both at the same time?” That was one smart postman. Too bad it took me 10 years to understand how smart he was.
Get ready, folks, because here is my point in a nutshell: Substitute “humor” for “love,” and the postman was right. I’m pretty sure that “love” and “business” can fit together (although the tiny cubicles make it a bit of a challenge). But I am certain that humor and business should fit together.
Your Business Is a Joke
Probably not — but it should be. Business should be fun. Most of us spend nearly as much time at our jobs as we do at home. (Unless you count the time we sleep. But if you’re gonna be that nit-picky, we’re gonna have some problems. Work with me here.) Because we do spend so much time working, it makes a ton of sense to figure out a way to enjoy our jobs, not just tolerate them. It turns out that adding humor, lightheartedness, and cheerfulness to the work day helps you get what you want. Using humor in business can improve your bottom line.
The business world has changed. Most of us will have several careers in our lifetimes, while our grandfathershad only one. Business skill sets and requirements change quicker than ever. (If you work in health care, your job has changed since you started this book. If you work in high-tech, your job has changed since you started this chapter.) Employee morale, recruitment, and retention are genuine business concerns. And the entrance of technology-driven younger generations into the workforce has changed our expectations of the workplace. (Does “business casual” mean pierced nose or pierced lip?)
If employee productivity, morale, recruitment, and retention are important to you and your business, then you already instinctively know how important it is to lighten up your workplace.
Trust Me; This Works
Ever hear the cliché “Our business is a relationship business”? Well, guess what? All business is a relationship business. Folks choose to do business with people they like. And there isn’t a person with a pulse who doesn’t prefer to work with folks who know how to laugh. (Who would you rather work with: Yoda or Darth Vader? Jay Leno or the cop who gave you your last speeding ticket? Donald Duck or the Evil Queen from Snow White?) You can laugh your way to the bank.
But the relationship between humor and business success is deeper than that. It’s more than assuming that if you make a joke you’ll make more sales, increase your productivity or improve your management skills. The real secret is that although people do business with people they like, they also do business with people they trust. And, lucky you — adding a bit of humor to your business will help folks to both like and trust you. (Unless your humor consists primarily of shock buzzers and whoopee cushions. Then they’ll just avoid you. Unless you’re only doing business with 14-year-old boys, in which case—go for it!)
Have you ever noticed that you laugh the most with people you trust? My wife and I are close friends with two other couples. We were in each other’s weddings. We’ve had some amazing times together, both terrific and horrific. Our favorite pastime is to get together for dinner, wine, and laughter. There isn’t anything we can’t say to each other. There isn’t any topic we need to avoid. There isn’t one person among us we can’t safely tease. Why? We trust each other. (Come to think of it, the wine might have something to do with it too. But I digress …)
This connection between trust and laughter can help you in your job. We all love salespeople who can poke fun at themselves and even at their products. We love health care providers who can see the irony and absurdity in the medical world. We love teachers who can let their guards down and giggle and admit they don’t know everything. The bottom line is that when we see others laugh—and when they make us laugh—we trust them more.
We like them more.
And we do more business with people we like.
It Works? Says Who?
Tanja Pahs is a mortgage pro on the rise. One of her jobs is to approve or refuse mortgages prepared by her staff. Her staff has many incentives for getting these loans approved, so when staff members come into Tanja’s
office to “pitch” a loan to her, they are often uptight, nervous, and very serious.
“I just let them come in and do their thing.” Tanja explains. “They sit quietly and tell me seriously why this loan should go through. When they’re finished, they anxiously await my answer.
“Work should be fun, so I often let their question
sit there for a moment in the silent room with us. Then I answer very solemnly, ‘Well, let’s see what the Magic 8 Ball has to say about this loan.’” She then reaches for that goofy toy that “predicts the future” with a small collection of answers like “Good idea,” “Yes,” or “Better luck next time.”
For Tanja, this tiny bit of humor breaks through the tension in the workplace and replaces it with a mood more conducive to success. It’s a way to give her staff permission to relax. Once the tension is broken, Tanja believes that she and the staff member can better judge what to do about the loan request. Besides, as Tanja says, “Who can be serious all day?”
Tanja is able to add humor without making fun of anybody, without a bunch of witty one liners, and without throwing a bunch of fish. (Gross!) Humor doesn’t always have to be punch lines. Sometimes humor is giving yourself — and your workmates — permission to take the job less seriously.
Wizardry on the Job
I recently spoke at a convention of people employed by the state of Colorado. The speaker who followedme was the big boss of everybody in the room. She hid in the hall with me until they introduced her, then she entered the room dressed as a wizard (pointy hat, long robe with stars and moons, magic wand). As she made her way to the platform, she threw glitter on the tables and made silly comments.
Her staff reacted with chuckles and giggles. Folks weren’t falling into the aisles laughing, but they were grinning.
I thought it was a cool idea. But after talking to her later about her stunt, I thought it was an awesome idea. She told me that yes, it was a bit risky, but she is convinced that when her staff sees her take a fun but fairly meaningless risk, two things happen.
First, they’re more likely to take risks within their jobs and to accept responsibility for themselves. In the end, they achieve more. Second, because her employees see her poke fun at herself, they are more likely to trust her with genuine concerns, including complaints. Experience
has taught her she can only be a great leader if staff members are willing to share all of their concerns.
Wow. All this from a rented costume.
D’oh, It Works for Him
Or take the superintendent of a Virginia school district who told me he occasionallywho told me he occasionally wears Homer Simpson bedroom
slippers to work. He explained that when he started working in the district, there were some serious morale problems. The teachers were simply not convinced that the administration cared about them, their needs, and their concerns. The slippers help break down the walls, he believes, and are a way to connect with employees. As amazing as it seems, this man who has earned a Ph.D. uses stuffed footwear to contribute to a relationship of trust.
Sure, It’s a Bit Goofy
And how about the parole officer in Arizona who needed a way to lighten his job? This guy is not a Magic 8 Ball kinda guy … and he certainly isn’t a fuzzy slipper guy. He’s more of a follow-the-rules-or-I’ll-rip-your-tonsils-out kinda guy. But he is still human and needs humor to help make his job work for him.
This parole officer has a small magnet of Disney’s character Goofy, and every week or two he moves it to a new location in his office, like on the air-conditioning vent near the ceiling. He also has a small dish on his desk with chocolates. When parolees come into his office, he says in a very serious tone, “Sit down. Find Goofy, and you can have a chocolate.” He doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t explain what he means (unless they ask). And he doesn’t repeat it.
What’s this mean to him? For an officer with very serious and not-so-funny responsibilities, this simple game reminds him that one of his jobs is to stay sane. Humor is one of the best ways for him to keep from losing it.
See? Laughter Saves the Day
Then there is my daughter’s day care provider, Shiloh. She works out of her house, and gracefully takes care of five little kids. (And you thought the parole officer had a tough job!) A few days ago, my daughter and I were waiting for Shiloh to unlock the glass door — which of course she can see through — to let us in. As Shiloh neared the door, she shouted, “Who is it?” And then, she just broke out laughing at her own joke. (Because of course she could see us… the door was glass.)
Taking care of tiny kids can suck the life right out of you…if you can’t laugh, you’re done. Being playful not only enabled this woman to survive her job, it made it possible for her to enjoy her job. How cool is that?!
Punchlines in Airlines
I’m a professional speaker, which means I travel a lot. I’m amazed at how different flight crews see humor through different filters. For example, I was recently on a small connection plane, with only about 35 seats and two flight attendants. One of the flight attendants was doing her safety announcements when she began smiling. She became really animated and fun — she was clearly enjoying herself. Eventually, we figured out that the other flight attendant, in his seat in the last row, was making funny faces at her.
I asked her about it later. She explained that she hates it when he pulls that stunt, because “It is totally unprofessional.”
Smiling and laughing? Unprofessional?
Fast-forward a week or two when I was on a small plane on a different airline. Our plane was late arriving, and for some reason our take-off was being
delayed. Nerves were tight, as most folks needed this flight to be on time in order to make connections.
Let’s just say that folks weren’t holding hands and singing in the aisles.
The flight attendant picked up the microphone and, in a Southern drawl, cut to the chase. “Folks, I know you all want to find out what’s going on and how long it’s gonna take. And I want to tell you. Because we’re family. We’re in this plane together. But here’s the truth: I don’t know. I’ve only been in Little Rock for about 25 minutes and I have no idea.”
It was amazing. It was as though somebody popped the stress balloon. We laughed and relaxed. He continued: “Folks, if you’d like, I can make something up about mechanical-this, or airports-that. I can pretend that I know stuff that I don’t. Or I can be intentionally vague. But like I said, we’re family, and family doesn’t lie to each other. Now let’s all just look out the window together
and see if we can figure out what the hold-up is.” More laughter.
The entire flight—which was in fact late enough to mess up most folks’ connections—was punctuated by this charming attendant and his totally disarming jokes. He announced, “Now, we know you are in a hurry, so we will be flying at an altitude of 400 feet so that we can make this flight in 11 minutes.” He asked us if we wanted “chicken or beef?” And gave us peanuts.
He asked us if we wanted a salad. More peanuts.
When he gave me my peanut-flavored chicken, I asked him about the gold star on his lapel. He told me (OK, he told us … it was a TINY plane) that he was a recent winner of the Outstanding Flight Attendant award. The entire plane erupted in applause, because it was obvious that he was an outstanding flight attendant.
(We would have given him a standing ovation, but our belts were low and tight across our laps.)
I thought back to the first flight attendant, who thought laughter and smiles were unprofessional. The second attendant was a pro, and was recognized
as such by his airline and by this planeload of passengers.
Humor not consistent with business? Oh, please. The second attendant not only enjoyed his job way more than his peer, but he made a difference to his customers. He earned our trust (and our continued business) through a liberal dose of humor.
Mixing Humor With YOUR Business
Let’s face it, not everyone could pull off making a planeload of upset travelers laugh. And many of us would pay huge money not to wear a wizard costume or Homer Simpson slippers in front of our colleagues. Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s fine for them … but what about me?”
Well good news, Skippy, because you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Most of us could pull off something subtle like hiding a magnet in our office. But there’s plenty of stuff you can do that’s even easier. And best of all, you don’t have to be funny. You just have to have fun. (Check out Patt Schwab’s chapter in this book for more ideas.)
Here are four things you can do TODAY to add more humor to your business:
• Leave a funny message on your answering service. Instead of, “I’m out of the office,” try: “I’m probably down the hall fighting with the copy machine” or “at the coffee machine,” or maybe “playing computer solitaire and don’t want to pick up, but leave a message at the beep.”
• Add a joke to your e-mail signature. Or maybe add some made-up credentials to your name. Sometimes I sign myself Brad Montgomery, CSP, MTOU*. Under that, I put *CSP = Certified Speaking Professional; MTOU = Made This One Up. I’m amazed at how many people comment on my e-mail signatures.
• Consider leaving crank phone messages for both your workmates and your clients. Most adults haven’t gotten a crank call for a couple of decades. Trust me, fun, spirited crank calls will make some people’s business days. “Is your refrigerator running?” is really funny when you’re talking to somebody in a cubicle.
• This is my favorite ‘cause it is so easy. Laugh. Just laugh. When you enjoy yourself at work, you’ll give the folks you are working with the signal that you enjoy humor. Lighten up, and the world will follow.
Don’t Just Stand There
Humor works. Not only does it help us enjoy our jobs, it helps us achieve more in business. Would you want to brag on your deathbed that you never laughed at work? That work was always toil and never enjoyable? Wouldn’t you rather brag that you lived your life with a smile on your face? (Or at least, in the pursuit of having a smile on your face.) Humor helps forge personal relationships through trust. And better relationships mean better business.
Copyright ©2006 Brad Montgomery Productions, Denver Colorado. Do not reprint or post on any website without express written consent from Brad Montgomery Productions, Inc.
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