Humor has its place in networking. After all, no one wants to be around someone who always has a dour look on their face. That being said, though, we have to make sure that our attempts at humor don’t violate what our networking partners would consider acceptable.
Some of this is pretty obvious. Obviously, racial, ethnic, crude, or off-color humor doesn’t have a place in networking. Even if the person with whom you are speaking doesn’t mind, there may well be someone else listening who does. Likewise, anything which includes profanity should probably be avoided for the same reason.
Those are the obvious ones. Be careful, too, of any humor which has a real person as the butt of the joke. The only time this can be safely ignored is in the use of self-deprecating humor. Even that should be used in moderation. A big gotcha here is the kind of talk that sometimes starts up in same-gender groups, called “Stupid Spouse Stories”. You’ll know these because they almost always start out with “You think that’s bad? You should hear what my husband did!” While it may seem harmless at the time, it can come back to haunt you either when the story gets back to your spouse or when the person you are talking with starts to wonder what you might say about them behind their back if you talk about your wife this way.
Some people might argue that this is just how they are — that this kind of humor is a part of them and why should they have to change? Well, I would never tell someone that they had to change a fundamental part of their identity. At the same time, that person needs to know that their behavior may drive away potentially valuable relationships. The choice is theirs. Clean up their act or maybe watch a million-dollar connection walk out the door.
Image credit: Florin Florea