I’ve always had a pretty good sense of humor. I can find irony in a lot of things and have used it to my advantage. In my school days it would get me in trouble occasionally when the teacher thought I was auditioning for class clown. As I’ve grown into adulthood, I’ve tried to mature only as much as necessary.
A sense of humor in meetings
As a consultant – and in any business – you spend a fair amount of time in meetings. Meetings can be long and tedious. Business people always seem to be concerned about their professional image and joking around can give the impression that you are not serious about your work.
But an appropriate joke placed at the right time can lighten up the environment and refocus people from being glazed over from statistics on endless PowerPoint slides.
Sense of humor guidelines
The timing and content of a joke must be appropriate. Some guidelines to follow are:
- Don’t overdo it. Telling a joke and giving a stand-up routine are two different things. The point of telling a joke in a meeting or any professional situation is to lighten things up, not to entertain the troops.
- Keep it appropriate. Although I hate the term ‘politically correct’, it describes the approach fairly well. If there is any question of it being offensive, don’t say it. Avoid references to politics, religion and sex at a minimum. Michael Scott can get away with saying “That’s what she said” on The Office, but it’s not advisable in a business setting.
- Don’t put people down. People can be very sensitive. Telling a joke at someone else’s expense, particularly in front of their colleagues or their boss can have serious ramifications. If you tell a joke at anyone’s expense, it should probably be at your own. But doing that too often can give the impression of a lack of self-confidence.
- Read the audience. Some people have no patience for people joking around in a business setting. If you try to lighten things up with a joke and get no response or a cold stare, back off. Taking them as a challenge to make them laugh will most likely backfire on you. If they want to be serious and all that their consultant seems to be focused on is joking around, your chances of success at that client are low.
- Beware of a double standard with the client. Some clients have a set of acceptable standards for their own employees and another set for consultants. This stands to reason to some degree. They’re usually paying a lot more on a per hour basis for their consultants and they want them to be as efficient as possible. You may see client employees get away with joking around and having fun, while you get reprimanded for not being serious enough.
Having a sense of humor can be a great asset. Much of success in consulting is about building relationships and much of that hinges on just being likable. The ability to make people laugh can endear them to you. It can also make your own work day more pleasant. But everyone has their own idea of what is funny and what’s not. Make sure that you don’t turn a client off with your sense of humor.
How do you use your sense of humor at work?
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.