For a leader who's building social and business relationships, humor is a wonderful tool. 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. As a significant fringe benefit, a sense of humor gives you a better-tuned humor radar.
Here's an example of when I used the humorous touch in 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 and Toastmaster, 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 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 includes ignoring or explaining it, or 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 e-mail 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 e-mail with two simple words: "It's DelAware." I had misspelled the name of her state! I had replaced an A with an E.
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 the 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 e-mail:
"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 for us!"
And here's another embarrassing mistake and a humor recovery. As a newly elected board member of an association, I received an e-mail from its 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 that required my response, I sent him the answers in three separate e-mails. The last one ended with: "PS: I sent you separate e-mails 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 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 kinda odd.
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 accidentally broadcast an e-mail to people in 60 countries. I was helping a friend publish her first e-zine (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 e-zine server's control panel while she took parallel steps on her control panel. Somehow I made the mistake of loading a blank e-zine into my server and sent it to 1000 of my subscribers. Oh no! I knew of someone who sent out an e-zine with a glaring error and received more than 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 newsletter issue that read:
"What do you do when you receive a blank e-zine?
a. Be happy because you can read it quickly.
b. Believe it is a do-it-yourself e-zine...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 in Melbourne, Australia: "What a great follow-up to your blank e-zine. 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!