The Soft Skills of Management: Being Human Through Using Humor

By Jan McInnis, The Work Lady  – October 12, 2023
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:

  • Humor connects people instantly. You know that “aha” moment you feel when someone else “gets” your humor? That means you've just found some common ground without spending 20 minutes on small talk about their kid’s school. Making this quick connec­tion opens the lines of communication easily with clients, potential clients, coworkers and staff.
  • Humor gets people to listen and makes your message memorable. Experts say that if you want people to retain information, you must connect it to an emotion, like laughter. People will take time for something (or someone) funny, and they’ll remember it and share it. Businesses spend millions on funny Super Bowl ads because humor works. You can use it, too, for free!
  • Humor defuses tension. Humor can help calm people down and change the energy in the environment. Is your staff stressed? A little humor can quickly get them from ruffled to relaxed.

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.

Bonus Tips

  • 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

Jan McInnis is a keynote speaker, author, comedian and comedy writer who shows businesses how to use humor.

This article appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.