Laughter at work is a serious business. Not only can business humour penetrate the intensity of an important meeting or provide a group with a welcome office break, but it can go much further.
- It can be a binding force, bringing common ground to a business team.
- When a speaker tries to persuade a group to his/her way of thinking, the injection of humour can impart a sense of balance and understanding, rather than merely a zealous, dogmatic preaching exercise.
- The presence of humour in a business says something about its culture; perhaps less hierarchical, more relaxed, more natural.
- Laughter creates a perfect backdrop to encourage innovation and creative thinking.
Of course, there can be pitfalls if the humour is inappropriate. However, this isn’t a post to dissect the relative merits of business humour; just one to state a claim that there is always room for some funny business, delivered in the right way. Here are some of my favourites.
Business humour 1 – Operations
CEO at annual general meeting: “Last year I had to report that we were standing on the edge of a precipice. This year I am delighted to confirm that we have taken one giant step forward”!
Business humour 2 – Punctuality
“Steve was always late for work. No matter what time the clock was set, he slept through it. Eventually, his manager threatened to sack him if he turned up late again. He went to see the pharmacist who gave him a pill and told him to take one each night before going to bed. Steve slept soundly. He felt great as he drove to work.
He saw his manager and said, “that pill worked a treat”.
His manager replied, “that’s great to hear, but where were you yesterday?”
Business humour 3 – Straight talking
I once met a fund manager at a party around the time of the 2008 financial crisis. He was a hilarious guy, but the one line he came out with has stuck with me:
“Don’t forget – the value of your shares can fall as well as plummet.”
Business humour 4 – Clear thinking
A reputed entrepreneur had just attended his daughter’s wedding. He invited his new son-in-law into his office for a man-to-man chat.
The entrepreneur said, “I have just bought out a very successful business, and I am going to give it to you as a wedding gift. If you work hard in the warehouse and learn the business, you will become a great manager and be very successful.”
His son-in-law said, “Thank you so much, but I can’t work in big open spaces.”
So, the entrepreneur said, “Well then, you must learn the business from the office and become a great operator.”
“That’s awfully kind of you, but I couldn’t possibly work all day indoors”, answered the son-in-law.
The entrepreneur was getting a little frustrated at this point. “You can’t learn the business if you can’t work in the warehouse or the office. What do you suggest?”
The son-in-law said, “I suggest you buy me out.”
Business humour 5 – Opportunism
A businessman’s wife had just showered and was wrapped in a towel as she dried her hair. Her husband was getting dressed.
The doorbell rang. She went downstairs and answered the door. The opportunistic next-door-neighbour who was dropping off a leaflet said to her, “if you drop that towel, I will give you £750.”
After a short pause, the wife thought it wouldn’t do any harm, so she dropped her towel, stood still for a moment and then rewrapped herself in the towel. The next-door-neighbour gave her the cash and left.
As she returned to the bedroom, her husband asked who it was. His wife said, “oh, it was only the next-door-neighbour”.
Her husband said, “did he mention anything about the £750 he owes me?”
Business humour 6 – Commitment
Manager: “I’m looking to rearrange the office on Sunday, can you come in and help me?
Young trainee: “No problem – I will probably be late as the buses are unreliable on a Sunday.”
Manager: “Don’t worry about that; what time do you think you will be in?”
Young trainee: “Monday.”
Business humour 7 – If you don’t ask, you don’t get
A business graduate was attending an interview for his first job. The interviewer asked him what salary he was expecting. The business graduate said, “somewhere around the £150,000 mark, depending on benefits.”
The interviewer replied, “we would offer you a £20,000 golden handshake, a brand new company Mercedes, full pension, 32 days holiday per year, premium medical cover and annual use of the company ski chalet.”
The business graduate’s eyes widened and said: “Are you kidding?”
The interview responded, “yes, but you started it.”
Business humour 8 – Honesty
A young operations trainee sits down with his new line manager.
Line manager: “What is your weakest attribute?”
Operations trainee: “I think I am too honest.”
Line manager: “That’s no bad thing; I think honesty can take you a long way.”
Operations trainee: “I don’t care what you think.”
Business humour 9 – Thinking big
The company accountant was home after returning from work and was sitting with his 6-year-old daughter trying to explain the concept of infinity. “What is the biggest number in the world?” he asked her.
After some consideration, she replied: “5,324”.
The father said, “What about 5,325”?
She sighed, “oh, I was so close”!
Business humour 10 – Performing well at interview
Three women attended an interview to join the CIA as embedded overseas agents. The first lady walked into the room, and the officer said to her:
“In that room, you will find your husband tied to a chair. Here is a loaded gun. We need you to go into that room and kill him to prove your commitment to the cause.” She walked into the room, but after a few moments, walked out again. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I couldn’t do it.”
The next woman came in. The officer gave her the same brief and handed her the gun. Several minutes passed, but then the second lady returned and said, “I just couldn’t do it.”
Finally, the third lady entered. Again the officer told her the drill and handed her the gun. After a few moments of silence, the officer heard the gun fire twice, followed by a prolonged commotion until things eventually went quiet again.
The third lady opened the door, straightening herself out.
“What went on in there?” Asked the startled officer.
“Well,” said the woman, “I tried shooting him twice, but the gun was loaded with blanks, so I broke off a chair leg and beat him to death with it instead.”
“Common sense and a sense of humour are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humour is just common sense, dancing.”
The late – and great – Clive James
I hope you enjoyed that few minutes of light relief. Don’t forget – if you encourage business humour in your workplace, then you could be laughing all the way to the bank. Ho, ho.
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