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In-jokes – Professional or inappropriate?

Mostly when people join BNI, they’re attracted to the prospect of building professional relationships that will help them grow their business. Not many people join with the focus of making friends and growing these friendships. But inevitably, this happens, and these friendships make it easier for us to give and receive referrals. It’s a bonus of being in BNI. We make professional relationships that are valuable to us, and also personal friendships that we enjoy and are also valuable to our businesses.

Here’s the “but” though.

It’s important that we recognise the environment that all these relationships are born in. That environment is a professional one and needs to remain as such if we are to continue to give and receive value. If the professionalism in the room drops, the business passed will soon follow. As will growth, and retention.

When personal friendships are involved, one thing that can sometimes challenge the professionalism of the meeting environment is in-jokes. Through our day-to-day interactions we often have moments of humour, and sometimes these create a recurring theme. There’s nothing wrong with this, if we remember that key word. “Professionalism”.

For example, let’s say you have a running joke with a fellow member, or even the whole Chapter. But this joke only crops up in conversation before and after the meeting and not during. Then there’s little possibility of a negative effect from this joke.

How about we throw some visitors into the mix though? What do they think when everyone is laughing, except them? They might feel stupid or alienated. Depending on the nature of the joke, they might consider the entire Chapter to be unprofessional, or at the very least, cliquey.

What if your visitor feels offended, or alienated, by another member’s in-joke? Perhaps you brought your best customer along that day and they’re now feeling like an outcast. They feel like they don’t belong and have maybe even wasted their morning. How do you now feel about how this might reflect on you? Do you want to be thought of as the person who wasted your best customer’s valuable time?

BNI exists for professionals to grow their business through professional relationships. If we lose sight of how important professionalism is to what we set out to achieve in BNI, we risk reducing the level of success we can achieve. I firmly believe that in-jokes have a place in our relationships. I believe even stronger that the place for those in-jokes is outside the Chapter meeting room.

Before injecting humour into your next meeting, take a moment to consider if what you’re about to say is professional. Is it easily understood and appreciated by everyone, especially visitors? Could it reasonably make anyone feel uncomfortable, awkward, or left out? If, after you’ve considered all the aspects, you believe you can be funny in an appropriate, professional, and “in-context” manner that doesn’t detract from the meeting, then you could be fine.

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