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The Use of Humor In Sales |  September 16, 2015 (0 comments)


Boston, MA—Explaining humor to someone is a little like chewing their food for them. It just doesn’t work. You either get it, or you don’t.

When I think back on all of the people I have worked with in my career, I find, like most people, that I am drawn to people who are funny. There’s the brilliantly quick wit of Adam, the very British dry-wit of John, the hilarious body and facial contortions of Russo, and the down-home quirkiness (“Shut the front door”) of Shawn.

We all love to laugh. It’s one of the great human connectors and it can mask a great many sins and brighten a dark day.

If you ever wondered about the power of laughter, listen intently to the comments from some of the people around you when the airplane you are flying in hits some particularly bad turbulence. I’m not sure if I’m one of those people or not (having long-since reconciled my early life fear of flying, when I would take the hour-long flight from Dublin to London each year in a state of paralytic-fear), but there is, for some people, a default to humor and laughter, when an event outside of their control seems to threaten their physical safety. I’m never quite sure in those situations if I’m glad to have the jesters aboard or if I just want them to shut up so that I can pray with less distractions.

Besides distraction from near-death experiences, humor serves a great many purposes and it can be particularly useful on a retail sales floor. It can serve as a catalyst to help connect strangers when they first meet; a particularly useful tool in the world of sales.

It can diffuse or alleviate tension from a potentially difficult situation with a customer or a co-worker, enabling both parties to move forward with a smile on their faces. Humor can also help to establish your bona fides with the aforementioned co-workers and customers as someone they enjoy working with and doing business with. 

Sales is a serious business. It comes with a great many demands and pressures and retail, in particular, seems to be filled with peaks and valleys, as the pressure of producing amps up in the crazy times, and the stress of finding business increases during the quieter times. Both the former and the later scenarios can be helped greatly with a little well-placed humor.

Other than the obvious admonition to stay clear of humor that might offend people (it used to be religion, race and politics, but I confess anymore that it is getting harder to know...what if I don’t like the Kardashian’s!!!!!) and humor that is nasty or offensive, find ways to see the humor in situations and share that humor in an authentic way. Most people are pretty funny in their own way and life delivers a great deal of laughter if you’re open to it.

I’ll leave you with a favorite story:

Three sons left home to make their fortune and did very well. One day, the three competitive brothers got back together to discuss the gifts they were giving their mother for her 75th birthday. The first brother said,

“I have built a big house for mother.”

The second brother said “I bought mother a Mercedes and a hired driver.”

The third brother said, “I’ve got you both beat. You know how mother enjoys reading the Bible but struggles evermore due to her failing vision? Well, I sent her a brown parrot that can recite the entire Bible. It took twenty Monks in a Monastery twelve years to teach him. I had to pledge $100k per year for them to train him but it will be worth it.  Mother just has to name the chapter and verse and the parrot will recite it.”

Soon after, their mother sent a note of appreciation to each of the brothers. To the first, she thanked him for the big house but said that she lived entirely in one room but must clean the whole house.

To the second brother, she thanked him for the Mercedes but complained that she doesn’t go out much anymore and that the driver was extremely rude.

To the third she wrote, “You were the only son to have the good sense to know what your mother likes. The chicken was delicious.”

Peter Smith, the author of Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions To Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent, has spent more than 30 years building sales-teams at retail and at wholesale. He is president of Vibhor Gems and he has previously worked with companies such as Tiffany & Co., Montblanc and Hearts On Fire.  Hiring Squirrels is available in print and Kindle on His contact information is or or he can be reached via LinkedIn.

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