I have wanted to write this post for awhile, but I haven’t been able to quite get my mind around it.
My sister says that my middle name is “sarcastic,” so maybe that has something to do with it…
What got me thinking about this topic is how often we use sarcasm when we want to address problem behavior in a meeting or in our day to day life. I see it most often when people are speaking about or to their peer group, where maybe the hierarchy isn’t so clear and we aren’t sure how safe it is to speak our minds.
I say this because sarcasm is essentially a defense against attack. If I give you this information in an ironic tone, then I don’t necessarily have to take responsibility for what I say. This is especially true is I want to disagree but I don’t want to seem confrontational.
Now, a lot of us might want to defend our sarcasm. (It is a tool! People laugh and it gets the point across.)
If we pay attention to what happens; however, we might notice something else. Do we feel heard? Are people laughing because it is funny or because they are also feeling uneasy?
Sarcasm is passive-defensive because it allows us to claim some sort of authority (the cool kid in 8th grade) without actually taking responsibility for what we say.
If we want to be leaders, and if we want to be clear and thoughtful communicators, we will need to pay attention to when we use sarcasm as a tool to communicate an opinion or an idea. While it might be funny at the time (and we all like funny), the damage to the team, our friendships and the dynamics of the group could be huge if left unchecked.
Times when it can be a problem:
1. You wanted to say “no” or “yes” but made a joke instead.
2. You feel angry and tried to deflect it with a joke. (This is usually the most damaging.)
3. Someone undermines you in a meeting and you respond with sarcasm instead of naming it.
4. You are afraid to say that you like or don’t like something (fear of expressing your opinion).
5. You are trying to criticize while not being blamed for being critical. (What? I was only joking!)