By Barry Maher
Obviously you have to be careful with humor in business. You don’t want to offend anyone. That’s why self-deprecating humor can be so powerful. You’re poking fun at yourself. No one else is likely to be offended. It makes you seem modest and likeable while at the same time demonstrating that you’re confident and self-assured enough to laugh at your own foibles. In effect, you’re bragging about your own negatives.
“So there’s no question it’s the right service for the right price,” I once told a prospective client.
“It’s a great service. It’s a good price.”
“And this is certainly the right time.” It was. And I’d given him any number of excellent reasons why.
“I’m still not convinced that I need to sign up right now, today,” he said.
I nodded. “That’s because I forgot to mention the best reason.”
“Oh, and what’s that.”
“Because that’s the quickest way to get my sorry butt out of your office.”
That became known around the company as the Sorry Butt close. Not only did I use it again from time to time but a couple of other people started trying it as well. It worked just often enough that every new hire got to hear about Barry Maher’s Sorry Butt.
A young entrepreneur once had a meeting with the top executive team of his number one corporate client in the office of the CEO. He was trying to build a little rapport before they got down to business, but the others were all a good forty years his senior. The small talk soon became miniature talk, then microscopic talk, then no talk at all.
Searching for something he could use to generate a little conversation, the entrepreneur spotted a large silver picture frame on the CEO’s desk. Inside the frame was a picture of an attractive young woman. She wasn’t Miss America but she was certainly attractive, and he was desperate.
“Wow, she is absolutely gorgeous,” he enthused.
The CEO’s face lit up. This was the right thing to say.
Then the entrepreneur asked, “Is that your granddaughter?”
A stunned silence seized the room. The CEO shot him a look that could have frozen fire. “That, sir,” he muttered, “is my wife.”
Now it was the young entrepreneur who was stunned. All he could think about was all that business—far too large a percentage of his business—vanishing as quickly as the CEO’s smile. He glanced around nervously but no one would meet his eye. He did happen to notice a ceremonial sword resting on a shelf on one wall.
He thought for just a moment. Then he rushed over. He grabbed the sword. He snatched it off the shelf. He dashed back to the CEO’s desk. He dropped to his knees in front the desk. He raised the sword high over his head. He shrieked. Then he plunged the sword down . . . into the space between his arm and his body. He fell face down, twitched once or twice, gurgled a death rattle, and lay still.
Yet another stunned silence filled the room. Then the place erupted into laughter. After a moment, the entrepreneur peered up cautiously and saw that the CEO was laughing too—not as loudly as the others perhaps, but laughing nonetheless.
The tension was broken. The account was saved.
Have fun with your job. Have fun with your customers. As far as I’m concerned, he or she who has the most fun, wins. Tattoo that on your arm. Just remember laughter is a two edge sword. It works a lot better when it’s pointed at yourself.
You also might remember that business is like sex. If it’s not good for both of you the first time, you might never get a second chance.