Strange But True Tales
"The Personal Massager" and six other bizarre adventures from the consulting frontline.
Colleagues often tease me that I have more than my share of Strange But True adventures. I'm not sure if I actually attract more of these situations than other people, but I do acknowledge that I'm more open to finding the humor in unusual workplace events. I think you'll enjoy the following seven bizarrely humorous real-life adventures. (And a big "Thanks!" to my friends who contributed; you know who you are.)
1. The Personal Massager
...or, How to Generate Good Vibes in a Focus Group
One of the most memorable research studies that I have ever observed involved a female moderator, an all-male focus group and a "personal massager." The client had requested focus groups to explore perceptions of its line of sports massage products. At the end of the groups, the client wanted the moderator to casually and discretely display a "personal massager" to see how people compared it to its sports massage product.
At the end of the first group, the moderator walked over to the table with this product, tripped, and the "personal massager" shot out of its box, turned on and began loudly buzzing its way across the table toward the men in the group. They exploded in laughter, and one of them said, "Well, you certainly know how to operate one of those!"
This initial focus group project became an inside joke with our client for years to come, but it also served as an "ice-breaker" when we all laughed at the faux pas. It's a good example of how humor can relieve stress, help forge relationships and generally create a more positive atmosphere in which to conduct good business.
2. Always Compliment the Client's Mother
A colleague tells of a meeting that he and his boss, the president of a public relations firm, had with the CEO of a large pharmaceutical company. His employer, unaccustomed to being kept waiting, paced back and forth, intensely examining the reception area artwork while the receptionist assured them that it would be just a few more minutes.
When the pharmaceutical CEO finally emerged, the PR firm president exclaimed loudly, "I noticed that you have a portrait of Benjamin Disraeli in your waiting area. I, too, am a huge fan of Disraeli."
After a brief pause, the pharmaceutical CEO quietly replied, "That is not a portrait of Disraeli. That is a portrait of my mother."
Without missing a beat, the PR leader said, "Did you know that your mother bears a striking resemblance to Disraeli?"
3. Dressing in the Dark
A colleague rose very early one morning to arrive at his office before dawn and get a head start on a busy day. To avoid awakening his wife, he dressed quickly in the dark and caught the train.
He had already put in several productive hours when his colleagues began to arrive. He recalls a British colleague stopping in his tracks as soon as he entered the office and exclaiming in a loud voice, "My God, man, what do you have on?" Further examination revealed that in his haste to dress that morning, he had put on his wife's blouse, complete with lace collar and cuffs.
4. Caught on Voicemail
As I listened to my voicemail one morning, I was surprised to hear a diatribe about myself from a subcontractor that included such comments as, "I'll set her straight!" and "No one tells me what to do!" It became clear that he had called me from a meeting with his own staff and believed he had disconnected from my voicemail. Without realizing that he was being recorded, he left a scathing monologue as he attempted to show off to his staff.
I returned the call and the subcontractor, still in his staff meeting, immediately put me on speaker phone. After responding to his questions, I repeated some of the comments that had been left on my voicemail and asked if there was anything else he wanted to add. After clearing his throat numerous times, he replied, suddenly speaking in an unusual accent, "Uh, that wasn't me." I suggested he get in touch with me after further reflection.
I chuckled heartily to myself when he called later that day (in his usual voice) to say, "Actually, Jenny, that was me. Sorry about that."
5. The Importance of Staying Focused During Interviews
I arrived for a research interview with a construction worker at about 7 a.m. to discuss his preferences in pickup trucks. He had an office in a small shopping mall and, due to the early hour, there were no other cars in the parking lot. He had been working on his computer prior to our interview and the screen was dark as I began my questions.
As the respondent shifted in his seat, he inadvertently touched his computer keyboard and his computer "came to life," including the screen he had been looking at prior to the interview--a pornographic website. Since the computer was behind the respondent, he had no idea what had occurred. Knowing that we were alone in the office, with no others in the vicinity, I quickly decided not to alert him to the situation. Instead, maintaining an absolute "poker face," I continued the interview: "And so what do you think of the truck's locking mechanism?"
The story proved highly entertaining when we presented our findings to our truck manufacturer clients.
6. Safe Driving Is No Accent-dent
On my way home from a business trip, feeling tired and slightly bored, I decided to amuse myself by speaking in a British accent to my limousine driver. While I chatted away, he glanced back in his rearview mirror.
"You from these parts?" he asked.
"Just visiting from England," I continued, feeling quite pleased with my accent.
Upon our arrival at my home, the driver regarded me with a mixture of pity and humor after he received my payment. "Cheerio," I cried jauntily.
"You know, I took you home just last week," he said, shaking his head ever so slightly.
We were both laughing as he pulled away.
7. Buckles The Bunny
The chairman of a PR firm that once employed me noted that, "Jenny Schade has a unique sense of the ridiculous."
His comment came at Easter time, after I had donned the costume of a client mascot, "Buckles The Bunny,"--complete with a giant head--and distributed candy to our staff.
When I entered the chairman's office, who was meeting with the president and chief financial officer, he looked up, saw the giant rabbit costume and said, "Oh, hi Jenny!"
"How did you know it was me?" I asked, surprised.
"Who else would it be?" he replied.
We all burst out laughing.
Numerous studies have proven laughter to be both physically and emotionally beneficial. In addition, taking a few minutes to see the humor in a situation is just plain fun. Surely you have your own "Strange but True" stories. I invite you to share them with me at jenny.schade@JRSconsulting.net. Perhaps I can relay them in a "Strange but True Stories" version two!
Jenny Schade is president of JRS Consulting, Inc., a firm that helps organizations build leading brands and efficiently attract and motivate employees and customers. Subscribe to the free JRS newsletter on www.jrsconsulting.net/newsletter.html
© JRS Consulting, Inc. 2009