An exempt-market dealer, a financial planner, and a hedge-fund manager walk into a bar …

Sorry — no punch line. Just pointing out that a dose of humour every now and then can help you stand out from the herd, according to Michael Kerr, a coach, speaker and owner of Humor at Work, in Canmore, AB.

“Trust is everything in the financial world,” Kerr says. “When [advisors] demonstrate a healthy sense of humour, [their clients] will tend to trust them more. It’s a great tool to build relationships and come across as more personable.”

Academic studies positively link humour and trust. In fact, some have even proposed that a good sense of humour was one of Abraham Lincoln’s strongest assets.

Kerr offers the following tips to help you improve client relationships with humour:

> Use humour, not comedy
There is an important difference between humour and comedy, Kerr says.

Comedy relies on performance and the telling of jokes that can sometimes cross the line into off-colour remarks.

Humour goes beyond jokes and into a general appreciation life’s quirks and an ability to laugh at the foibles of the human condition.

A sense of humour, Kerr says, is “a way of interpreting things around us.”

Just be sure to turn the punch line around on yourself and never anyone else.

> Take your work — not yourself — seriously
Your clients hire you because they believe you are the most capable person to manage their finances. And you take that job seriously.

“No one wants to hire a clown,” Kerr says. “However, that doesn’t mean you should always be sitting on a high horse.”

A little self-deprecating humour can help “humanize” you in several ways, Kerr says.

For example, tell a funny story about how you, too, found the world of tax law confusing when you began your advisory career. It can help you explain a difficult financial concept and also demonstrate empathy for your client.

Just be sure not to make jokes about any of the core competencies your clients are hiring you for, Kerr adds. Stick to jokes about things like your receding hairline.

> Don’t try, just “be”
While humour can help you break the ice or deepen a relationship, use it only if it fits with your personality.

Avoid what Kerr calls the “Michael Scott approach,” referring to the popular TV series The Office. Michael Scott, regional manager for the fictional company on which the series centres, was frequently portrayed as the “poster child for someone who tries to be funny but fails miserably,” Kerr says.

To avoid trying too hard, just relax and be yourself. You’d be surprised how many naturally funny things could fall into your lap if you just keep your eyes and mind open.

> Spruce up your office
Even if you aren’t the best at delivering a funny line, you can still incorporate humour into your business.

Keep a “funny file” of relevant comics or sayings that reflect on financial services.
Once you have compiled a few pieces you want to share, post your collection on a bulletin board in your office or reception area.

Another option might be to include some “fun” reading material in your reception area in addition to the standard business publications.

“When you start looking for funny stuff,” Kerr says, “you’ll see it everywhere.”

As for that joke, well, we’ll leave it up to you to come up with a punch line.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Aug. 16, 2013.