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a blog by Don R. Crawley

Keynote Speaker on
IT Customer Service and Compassion

Bringing humanity into the world of technology

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Client insights and service tips: We don’t normally associate humor with a danger zone. In fact, I think lots of humor is key to living a fulfilling life. When my family gets together, we laugh, giggle, chortle, and guffaw like crazy people and we love it! So, are there times when humor is dangerous? Absolutely. Humor is dangerous when it causes another person pain. Some people scoff at political correctness as being overly sensitive and, while I certainly understand their point-0f-view, I wonder if the jokes and other humor in question would be shared with all audiences. That, to me, is really the test. Would I tell a particular joke to any of my friends, regardless of their ethnic background, their gender, their sexual preference, their hair color, their IQ, or, frankly, any other consideration? If the answer is no, then I think that qualifies as “humor in the danger zone” and it needs to go away.

Another example of humor in the danger zone is when we, in a customer service role, attempt to use humor that makes fun of someone in an attempt to lighten up a tense situation or in the context of training.

Here’s an example. I don’t normally teach end-user classes, but a client had an emergency situation and needed someone to teach a basic Excel class. They asked me to do it, and since they were an excellent client, I agreed. During the class, I made a joke about someone being confused by asterisks being displayed in a password field instead of the actual password. Most of the people laughed, but at the break one individual came up to me nearly in tears. She explained that she had been confused by the asterisks and felt that everyone was laughing at her. You might think she was overreacting, but it doesn’t really matter whether she was or wasn’t. What matters is that my actions unintentionally (and unnecessarily) caused another human being pain. Since that time, I’ve tried to be more sensitive to how my choice of words and humor might affect another person. If I were a comedian whose job is to make people laugh, I might feel differently, but I’m a teacher, and my job is to educate.

We’re not paid to be comedians. We’re paid to support our customers and end users and help them work more productively, creatively, and efficiently. We need to be very careful of anything that gets in the way of doing our jobs.

This blog post is an excerpt from my book The Compassionate Geek: How Engineers, IT Pros, and Other Tech Specialists Can Master Human Relations Skills to Deliver Outstanding Customer Service, available through Amazon and other resellers.

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