This post is part of our Monthly-ish Tips series.

 multi-toolAt the turn of the new year, my own personal picks for maxims to focus on from the Get Real Manifesto were “Mistakes are inevitable; how you handle them reveals your true character” and “You get what you give.” We’re a few weeks in and I’m bringing “Humor and levity do more than break the ice” to the forefront as well.

Humor is an essential part of your relationship-building toolkit. It’s like a Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman™ multi-tool because it does so many things. Used effectively, humor can help you:

In fact, one study done by the U of Penn’s Wharton school shows that humor actually helps you increase your workplace status. The study concludes that well-played humor means that (1) others are more likely to perceive you as competent and (2) they’re more likely to elect you group leader for a subsequent task.

In other words, humor influences not only perceptions … but behavior.

The study cites Dick Costolo as an example, who tweeted the night before joining Twitter as COO. He wrote: “First full day as Twitter COO tomorrow. Step one, undermine CEO, consolidate power.” (It’s probably no accident he later became CEO).

A little closer to home, I once had a workshop participant share the power of a gently sarcastic remark that she made to a new client at the beginning of a call. She simply said, “You sound relaxed”—because he sounded anything but. First, he laughed. And then … he relaxed.

The Wharton study says the key to all of this is confidence, because that’s what the appropriate use of humor always signals. Hence the credibility boost.

But what if you’re not a great joke teller? Good. Because that’s not what this is about. Trust-building moves include things like:

  • Kind sarcasm
  • Self-deprecation
  • Lighthearted commentary.

Even if you don’t get a laugh, you’ll apparently get a status boost.

Make It Real

This week, look for ways you might bring humor to your conversations or presentations. If that feels too risky, then observe how others do this effectively. What do you learn for yourself?

Learn More


Review more ideas for ways to bring humor to your workplace interactions or (re)read a funny story called The Fascinating Wife in Chapter 6 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).