How to Build the Funny Bones of a Solid Business Relationship

Picture someone in your life who shares your sense of humor. What adjectives other than “funny” would you use to describe him or her? Undoubtedly, you’d choose words with positive associations, at least to you: quirky, sarcastic, subtle, witty.

Humor is a powerful people-connector because, quite honestly, laughing just feels good. More than 30 years of research has shown that humor is integral to our most intimate relationships: That significant other who routinely makes us smile is usually in pretty good standing, even if he or she temporarily ticks us off. We all enjoy spending time with like-minded souls, including those who belong in the doghouse.

That feeling isn’t exclusive to personal relationships. Consider the role humor plays in business: I’m not talking crass or inappropriate titillation here, but good, clean quips between colleagues and peers. People who are comfortable joking around are often seen as confident risk-takers, which is not a bad position to be in as a startup founder.

Using humor as a relationship foundation

“A day without laughter is a day wasted.” — Charlie Chaplin

Humor connects us on an intellectual level, even if the jokes aren’t academic. Let’s face it: Funny people are viewed as smarter, likely because they can think on their feet. These aren’t the folks waking up at 2 a.m. with a retort they wished they’d launched eight hours earlier; no, these are people who can come back with witty rejoinders on the spot. That’s why we gravitate toward humorous people: We forget what they said but remember how great they made us feel.

Of course, there’s a danger in humor that misses the mark. A joint study by Harvard University and the Wharton School showed that gutsy jokesters with good timing and fast comebacks were were apt to be project leaders; those whose jokes didn’t elicit laughter weren’t so successful.