Perfecting the Business Laugh

I received a touching email this week from one of the first people I mentored. It’s always nice to hear from old friends and Alice was particularly special to me. Alice (name changed for privacy) was fresh out of business school and working for me when she came to me in confidence. She said, “Carin, I’m not sure I fit in here.” I was stunned. She graduated in the top 10 of the Kellogg School of Management, interned at the State Department as a Data Analyst and then made the bold decision to switch to retail in the last quarter of school. This was everything I admired about her when we first met. It was like looking into a mirror during our interview.

Alice told me more. She said she felt like she didn’t have the right voice. When she talked to clients she had a hard time with the simple small talk necessary to create a relationship. She was fastidious about setting agendas and would be so energized about getting work done that she would immediately try and jump into a detailed discussion. I loved this tenacity, but could see why she wasn’t getting anywhere with clients. She hadn’t heard about the Business Laugh. The Carin Lain Business Laugh.

I knew she was perfect for the team because a long time ago I had the same issue. Why was it that my male colleagues seemed to have natural rapport with their clients? I was always better prepared. I was always ready to dive into business. It was after one frustrating experience that I decided to swallow my pride and listen to the calls going on around me. All I heard was laughter. I listened a bit closer and it hit me. It was a deep throaty laughter like I had never heard before. I pulled Tate aside and asked him if it was always like this. Tate gave me advice that I still have posted on my wall, “The Business Laugh is akin to the mating process. The right laugh at the right time means you’ve transcended the plane of the cold connection and moved into the relationship phase.” This was like nothing I had learned in school.

And so I practiced. Every opportunity. On calls home, on coffee catch ups with old friends, on first dates. I mimicked the laughter that I heard all around me at work. I practiced in the mirror. I practiced with my cats. And I got better. And when I was on calls at work it was like a light a switch was flipped. That first five minutes of a call before everyone has joined was my stage and all I had to do was laugh. And it was hilarious. Sports, kids, different cities, weather, new houses, new cars. It all just became hilarious. And I could feel clients endearing themselves to me.

I shared this story with Alice and she called me a few nights later. I swear, we hardly talked, we just started laughing at each other. She’s been closer than ever before.

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