Building Relationships With Humor
As a leader, when you are building social and business
relationships, humor is a wonderful tool. In both situations,
people want to associate with leaders who have a positive
personality and a sense of humor. When you are skilled at using
humor, it increases trust and likeability. It builds, and
sometimes even rescues, relationships. It clearly strengthens
your leadership skills. A significant fringe benefit, it
sharpens your ability to use humor in your presentations because
you have a better-tuned humor radar.
Here's an example where I used the humorous touch when sending a
letter to a fellow professional speaker. It illustrates keeping
your humor radar tuned for fun opportunities. I enjoyed hearing
Mary-Ellen Drummond, a terrific speaker, give a presentation in
Los Angeles. In her talk she mentioned that when she receives a
great testimonial letter, she laminates it. When I returned home
I wrote her a nice letter and mailed it to her. When she
received the envelope and opened it, she discovered that my
letter was already laminated! Years later, I discovered that she
was sharing my pre-laminated letter with an audience. When you
create humor and share it, you never know how many people it
will touch and to what extent it will build a relationship.
Humor is also a terrific way to recover from a mistake. Less
effective ways of dealing with a mistake are: Ignoring it.
Explaining it. Becoming defensive. Often, those choices can be
awkward. Many times, when recognizing a mistake, laughter is
clearly the best choice. Let me give you some examples.
I received an email inquiry for a speaking engagement on the
East coast. At the end of my response to the request for
information, I added: "I look forward to adding a special touch
to your meeting in Deleware!"
The meeting planner replied to my email with two simple words:
I had misspelled the name of her state! I had replaced an A with
My note back to her: "Thenks. Lern something every dey."
Her response (the capital letters are hers): "YOU PASS THE TEST!
We needed someone with a TRUE sense of humor. Now I'm really
excited. I'll be in touch!"
Another example, again in communicating with a potential client,
I misspelled a word. This time it was a potential client's first
name. Instead of Cecelia I had written to her as Cecilia.
Knowing that misspelling someone's name is a tacky mistake, I
quickly acknowledged the error before she had a chance to reply.
I immediately sent her a second email:
"Oops, misspelled your name Cecelia. Sorry about that. Jhon"
My way of acknowledging that I had unintentionally misspelled
her name was to intentionally misspell mine.
Her response was positive: "Funny -- you are going to be great
And here's another embarrassing mistake and a humor recovery. As
a newly elected board member of an association, I received an
email from the President. "By the way John, did you know you
keep calling me Rob when it's Rod?"
Well, as you probably know by now, my style is not to respond
with a simple "I'm sorry." Since he had also asked three
questions which required my response, I sent him the answers in
three separate emails. The last one ended with: "PS: I sent you
separate emails so I could practice your name."
His response: "Thank you Jon, for practicing my name." He
intentionally misspelled my name! I assumed he did it
intentionally because I know that he has a fun sense of humor.
One humorous reply deserves another. A few minutes later I sent
him a limerick:
There once was a man named Rod. For President he got the nod. He
did a great job, but some called him Rob. Which struck him as
Rod's response: "Ho ho ho. Very clever. Funny too."
That entire humor exchange helped program Rod's name into my
brain. And since that time, I've used his name correctly.
And then there was the time I broadcasted a mistaken email to
people in over 60 countries. I was helping a friend publish her
first Ezine (electronic newsletter) issue. It appeared that it
would be best to do the coaching over the phone. We were both
signed onto the internet, and I walked her through the steps on
my Ezine server's control panel while she took parallel steps on
her control panel. Somehow I made the mistake of loading a blank
Ezine into my server and sent it to over 1000 of my subscribers.
Oh no! I knew of someone who sent out an Ezine with a glaring
error and received over 200 subscription cancellations. I wanted
to respond before my subscribers reacted. Humor to the rescue!
In less than an hour after I discovered the mistake, I sent out
a special Ezine issue which read:
"What do you do when you receive a blank Ezine? a. Be happy
because you can read it quickly. b. Believe it is a
do-it-yourself Ezine...and write your own. c. Cancel your
subscription. d. Keep your sense of humor. "It seems that a
random blank issue from the Humor Power Tips computer-in-the-sky
was sent to many of our subscribers. If you were half as
surprised as I was...then I was twice as surprised as you.
Thanks for smiling with me."
And then I introduced a Blank Book Title Contest challenging
people to write titles to imaginary blank books.
The response was very positive. The subscription cancellations
were no more than they usually were, much less than one percent
of my subscription base. Among the several positive comments
about how I handled the mistake was one from Mick Court,
Melbourne, Australia: "What a great follow up to your blank
Ezine. I found your lived example of responding to a technical
mistake a really powerful lesson -- how to use humor to recover
ground after a technical mistake!"
As a bonus, I received more than 350 submissions for the Blank
Book Title Contest. Here are ten of my favorites:
The greatest story never told It's Easy To Love Your Enemies, By
George Bush and Michael Moore What I Learned In My Lifetime All
By Myself How Logic Applies To the Understanding of Human
Behavior Much Ado About Nothing The Sequel To The Last Word
Gifts Greater Than Life 2021 Social Security Benefits Tricks to
Teach Your Cat Best Short Stories Written In Invisible Ink
It's important to note that none of the fun and creativity of
this group writing exercise would have happened without my
choice of fixing a mistake with humor.
Be alert for opportunities to use humor when dealing with
mistakes or simply to put a memorable touch in your
communications with others. You'll make a lasting impression as
someone who can see the lighter side of life. It will make you a
stronger leader, a better speaker and it's good for business!