This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

If I had to do it all over again, I’d rewrite the list of six risks to take to build trust to add a seventh: bring humor to your conversations. This Weekly Tip recounts a story told by a big accounting firm partner that perfectly illustrates why, and provides four ways you can use humor to connect with your clients.

First, the story: Mr. Partner once picked up on what seemed like high stress levels while speaking with Ms. Client. He wasn’t 100% confident in his assessment, and didn’t want to be intrusive, so he focused first on the agenda items at hand. At the end of the meeting, Ms. Client asked, “Is there anything else?” That’s when he said, “Yeah… you look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders.” She opened up about some career challenges. In turn, he took another risk by sharing a funny bit from comedian Ali Wong’s Netflix special, filmed while Wong was seven months pregnant, in which she took aim at Sheryl Sandberg by saying, “I don’t wanna ‘lean in.’ I wanna lie down.”

Ms. Client laughed out loud and they proceeded to have a real heart-to-heart.

Now, how you might bring a little levity to your own clients: Here are four ways to use humor to connect with your clients, including some favorite video links. As a bonus, I bet they’ll make you chuckle, too:

  1. Use humor to show empathy. The Ali Wong bit is good for this (it’s a Netflix special). Considerably less racy is “The Eleven Stages of a Workday Told by Babies.” It’s a montage of video footage showing babies’ expressions/antics linked to the progression of a typical work day—from when the alarm goes off, to when you realize how big your to-do list is, to after work reality, plus eight stages in between. I don’t know any professional with a pulse who can’t relate to at least some of this in some way.
  2. Use humor to fall on your sword. Good luck keeping in the guffaws as the main character in this skit produced by writer/director/actor Jason Headley struggles to find and convey empathy because all he desperately wants to do is solve his partner’s problem. When you catch yourself being like him, call yourself on it: “Reflecting on our conversation today, I don’t think I did much better at listening than this guy. I hope you’ll forgive me. Can we try again?”
  3. Use humor to encourage a little venting. I dare you and your clients not to laugh out loud as our everyday conference call experiences come to life with sketch comedians Tripp and Tyler’s conference call video spoof. I am certain you’ll also wonder, as the main actor finally concludes … why didn’t we just send an email? You could share this spoof with a client and preface it with, “I’m hoping our group call tomorrow will be much more productive than this one. Looking forward to our prep call today.”
  4. Use humor to be transparent about wanting to improve your relationship. This blooper reel shows me and Charlie Green flubbing lines (and more) during the recording of our video series. Share this one, or find something else with a focus on relationship-building. Recommended context for ours: “These colleagues teach trust-building and the value of humor in all our relationships. I thought I’d practice some of what they preach by sharing their blooper reel with you, since almost everyone I know loves a good blooper reel. I hope you’re well, and finding ways to look at the lighter side of life.”

The consulting profession is serious business, whether you’re an external consultant or serving in a shared services role. Only most of us take our role—and our relationships—way too seriously. Consider this a reminder to add humor to your toolkit.

Make It Real

This week, take time out to laugh out loud. Better yet, invite your clients to laugh out loud with you. Experiment with using humorous material to forge a stronger connection.

Learn More


Read about humor as a surprising way to build your credibility, or brush up on ways to revive a stalled relationship in Chapter 19 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).