This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

If you’re suffering from Spring Fever like I am, you probably can’t tolerate anything too heavy or serious right now. So, this week I’m offering up a humorous (albeit poignant) example of a trust-building way to deliver a tough message.

This example came to my attention thanks to a participant in one of our programs, Ramsey Haig, who recognized it as an empathy-builder on the heels of his Being a Trusted Advisor workshop experience. It’s an error message he received while trying to order something from Amazon.

In short, it’s a much more creative alternative to the too-familiar Error 404.

Text-wise, it says, “UH-OH, something went wrong on our end.” The “UH-OH” is a great example of a caveat that’s short and sweet. The “something went wrong” part gets the core issue out on the table without mincing words. In combination, this provides a textbook example of the Name It and Claim It technique that Charlie Green and his co-authors first introduced in The Trusted Advisor.

(After reading a draft of this post, Ramsey pointed out very rightly that the “on our end” part also does a nice job of putting the onus on Amazon for the error, which is disarming.)

The truly distinctive part of the message, though, is the photo of sorrowful-looking dog that accompanies the text. Fido makes it hard to stay mad for long. The communication in its entirety makes it hard not to chuckle at least a little.

If you’ve been a Weekly Tips subscriber for a while, you know I’m a fan of humor as a trust-building mechanism. Used appropriately, humor helps you:

Break silence or interrupt inertia in a relationship;

Build your credibility;

Accelerate rapport.

Personally, I’m learning how to lighten up more and more as I get older, though there’s still plenty of room for me to bring more levity to my relationships—especially the ones impacted by challenging circumstances or dynamics.

May Fido inspire us all.

Make It Real

This week, look for opportunities to bring some levity to your interactions. How might you make humor a part of your trusted advisor toolkit?

Learn More


Read about why laughter might win you the proposal, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or find examples of humorous ways to defuse tension in Chapter 8 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).