By Kristen Gull
When you hear the word “sales pitch,” don’t you feel like half of your brain automatically falls asleep? What’s even worse is that sometimes you have to be on the selling end of that pitch. Excellent sales people develop a stand-up routine of sorts around their pitch to most importantly get people to listen. Once the customer is intrigued, jokes help the pitch stay fresh, and occasionally, help to defuse bad customer (and even coworker) interactions. Here are a couple of ways how you can use your own sense of humor to improve interactions and relationships with people at work.
Rule #1: Be professional, but don’t take yourself too seriously. No one wants you to become the office clown all of a sudden, especially if that isn’t your role. However, you want to set the mood of, “We are here to do business, but who says we can’t have a little fun while we’re at it?” The best way to show that you don’t take yourself or your job TOO seriously is to make a joke about yourself. Maybe it’s your haircut, your silly glasses, or your mood. For example, let’s say you work at a coffee shop in the early morning, and you’re tired. You could yawn and say, “Guess I need MY coffee!” before your customers jump to the conclusion that you are inattentive. Your customers and/or coworkers will likely relate, and you will hopefully inspire a genuine connection. People will often respond with something like, “I can’t even get out of the house without coffee!” instead of the alternative, which would be being rude. Offering to make fun of yourself first takes the power away from any would-be insulter, as well as makes you more immediately humbled, more likable, and therefore less likely to have someone go out of their way to be rude to you.
Let’s say a customer (or coworker/boss) has already upset you by being rude to you. “Why don’t you know my drink by now? I come in and order the same thing every day. You better learn it.” [Or, for your coworker/boss, “I thought I told you a million times to do (blank)!”] What should your response be? Stay cool as a cucumber and say, “You know, I could’ve sworn I knew(/did) it, but this old steel trap just isn’t what it used to be! I apologize— I’ll make sure I get it right(/done) next time.” (This joke works even better if you are a fairly young person.) After promising that, if you really sincerely make it a priority to go out of your way for this person next time, (even if they are mean to you,) they will likely appreciate your effort and feel bad for being demanding in the first place.
Rule #2: Make fun of the situation. Your shift is almost over and your boss just told you that you have to move x amount of product before you leave. This means that you are going to have to pitch to every customer that will listen to you. That’s the trickiest part— the ones that will listen to you. How do you get them to listen to you? You acknowledge their probable excuses to get out of the conversation humorously before launching into the sale. “I know you guys probably are in a really big hurry to get to the movies or pick up some froyo, but I wouldn’t want you to miss out on this really great deal.” They will be intrigued— what deal?? This is because you made a connection by saying that you know their time is valuable and it is to you too, but that you would feel as though you were doing a disservice to them by not informing them of this special deal. People will be more receptive to your message if you preface it like this than if you just throw out, “We are having a two for one deal today— would you like to take advantage of it?” With that strategy, chances are, people won’t be connecting with what you are saying, so it doesn’t matter what you’re selling, or how great the deal is. They just know that you are asking them to buy something that they didn’t ask for or plan on buying, and they have a limited supply of money. They will tune you out and say no, just because they don’t want to hear the sales pitch. (Mostly because it forces them to think, which is something they were likely not prepared to have to do.)
This rule also works in awkward coworker situations, such as a disagreement or miscommunication. Make fun of the situation first— “Look, I know you and I would both rather be getting our toenails pulled out right now than have this conversation, but we should work this out like (Richard Simmons/Jane Fonda/Billy Blanks/insert your favorite workout instructor here) for the good of the workplace.” If you acknowledge how the other person feels, (“I know you’re mad at me because I was being a big fat jerk to you…”) and then honestly communicate how you feel, (“…and I am sorry about that, but understand it was because I was frustrated about this silly thing you did. Next time, I would prefer if you didn’t do that thing, and if you do, I will handle the situation in a better way by talking to you about it first.”) This way, you can use your humor to defuse hard feelings and get on the right foot to solving the problem.
Rule #3: End on a high note. Let’s go back to the sales situation. Let’s say that a customer listens to your acknowledgement and says, “I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I have only enough to buy exactly what I came to get.” Make a joke about how it benefits him to take advantage of the sale, “You can always come back later today, but okay. Just don’t come crying to me when we are all sold out tomorrow, mister! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!” This way, you are showing that you are not going to take their rejection personally. It also implies that the sale benefits them more than you, so really, rather than pitching, it sounds like you’re letting them in on a secret, or sage advice. That provides more of an incentive to say yes versus: “Are you sure? Are you sure you’re sure??” or “Please! I have to sell 15 of these before my shift ends in 5 minutes!” Those tactics are desperate, and no one likes a desperate… well, anybody. It’s pathetic and gives the other person an uncomfortable amount of power. Don’t worry about getting every customer. There are plenty of customer fish in the sea. You don’t have to throw yourself at every single one. So, make that last joke and GET OUT.
Same goes for coworker/boss situation. Did you finally reach an agreement or an understanding regarding the immediate problem? Then END ON THAT. Don’t try to work out every single problem you have ever had with this person in one day, or try to tell them what you don’t like or would change about them, etc. Find that high note and end on it. “Well, that was like ripping a band-aid off, huh? Not as painful as we anticipated!” As stand ups say, tell the joke, get the laugh, and GET OUT.
These tips will help you to genuinely connect with others, which has value that is as tangible as money. If you connect with your customers and coworkers, they will likely feel connected to you. The connection itself provides more value than the product/service or work alone, which will keep your customers and coworkers happy.