the sky floor

Business Etiquette: One Joke that Should Be Off Limits

February 16, 2023

I was on a call with a client’s tech vendor a few weeks ago. The call was ordinary; the topic was dry, and so was the nature of interactions on the call. Suffice it to say humor was not on the menu for this interchange, which is ok. Even though I prefer a little lively banter in business meetings, sometimes it’s just a nuts-and-bolts conversation.

Toward the end of the meeting, someone on my side of the conversation asked a question about the cost breakdown. The interaction went something like this:

“So what about those blank lines on the spreadsheet?”

“Oh, those? If you want me to fill them in with additional cost, I can definitely do that! ” (And charge you even more money! Vendor laughs, and we all smile uncomfortably.)

I have two significant issues with this joking. 

  1. The vendor displayed no sense of humor up until this point. 
  2. Money isn’t a joke. 

Money isn’t a joke.

When you are talking with a client, money isn’t a joke. Did I say that three times in a few sentences? You bet, because I am serious about it. 

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Money represents the exchange of value between you and your client. Making it trivial calls into question the fundamental relationship between the trade of money and the service, product, or intellectual property. 

Neither one has more power; ideally, the transaction is fair and profitable for both sides. 

Joking about how much you can arbitrarily charge your client will sow distrust in the relationship, even if they don’t actively realize it. Joking about it when you show no real sense of humor otherwise will make you appear downright petty. 

In the end, joking about money is a matter of respect for your work and the hard-earned money the client wants to spend – just don’t joke about it or you risk devaluing both.

Make jokes about the money part of your business relationships off-limits. Wisecracks about how much you charge ultimately call into question the value you are offering and put fissures in the relationship – you want to build trust, not chip away at it!