The Soft Skills of Management: Being Human Through Using Humor
"I might bomb,” or “I’m not naturally funny” are two reasons I hear a lot from people as to why they’re not using humor in business. But using humor at work isn’t about writing jokes and being a comedian; it’s another tool you can use to do your job. It’s one of the “soft” skills that include communication, teamwork and creativity.
Aside from people wanting to work with someone who uses humor, there are many benefits:
Three Quick Ways to Find Humor
- Pull out the contradictions. Humor is about irony, so look around and start noticing the ironies and contradictions in your environment. A sign in the bathroom at my last company read “Low-flush toilets — please flush twice.” Someone missed the point about water conservation! Point out these ironies for some quick humor.
- Ask funnier questions. The next time you’re networking, instead of asking someone their name and title (all the stuff on their badge!), sprinkle in a few fun questions to get more memorable information which will spark a funnier conversation. Saying you work at the bank is good, but saying “yeah, this beats my first job after college telemarketing sides of beef” is funnier. It piques people’s interest, encourages them to connect with their funny job and gives you an opportunity to inject more humor. Your chat will be more interesting and memorable. (By the way, yes, I telemarketed sides of beef, and yes, I have some humor about it.)
Do passive humor. If you don’t want to say something funny, then show them. One quick way is to change the meaning of your business acronyms. No one remembers what they mean anyway, so add in a few funny definitions to get people laughing — they may even read your entire email. RFP — Request for Proposal becomes Really Frustrating Paperwork, and HMO — Health Maintenance Organization becomes Having Many Oops. You can also add passive humor in your bio or the “about us” page on your website. Noting that “John played high school football” is boring. Change it to “John was a great high school football player, which influenced his career. After being repeatedly tackled by 300-pound guys, he opted for a career in accounting,” shows your sense of humor.
- Start small! Comedians start out doing three minutes at an open mic night and build up to 60 minutes. You can start small, too, by just bringing up one funny thing you noticed or asking one client a funnier question.
- Practice. No, you don’t have to stand in front of the mirror telling jokes, but humor is a muscle, so exercise it. Start actively looking for the ironies now, and soon they’ll pop out at you automatically. Then, when you want to use humor, you'll be able to find it quickly.
Oh, and are you worried about bombing? Don’t be! Most people in business don’t get mad if the humor isn’t killer because they don’t expect you to be a comedian. They’re just appreciative of you trying to lighten the situation.
Remember, your business may not be funny, but getting people to listen to your message can be!
Jan McInnis is a keynote speaker, author, comedian and comedy writer who shows businesses how to use humor.