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At work, cut the sarcasm

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in Business Etiquette,Centerpiece,Workplace Communication

by Cynthia Clay

office gossipSarcasm: It’s a habitual behavior pattern that weakens teamwork.

If you tend to make sarcastic comments in the name of fun, then this article is for you.

Now ask yourself, Why do I do it?

Is that funny crack a way to make people laugh? Then notice that you may need lots of attention at the expense of others. Is making the wittiest comment a way to earn points?

Notice that gaining the upper hand means making someone else feel put down. Is that pointed remark an underhanded way to disguise a serious observation?

Then realize that your intended target may not get it and, if they do, they might not be too motivated to do anything about it.

The sad truth is that sarcasm reveals more about you than the people you target.

Is it really harmless?

Families, peer groups and work teams often develop sarcastic banter as a way of relating to one another. Sometimes one or two people take the brunt of these jokes.

But here’s a news flash: Sarcasm destroys relationships and reduces productivity over time. The repeated victims of sarcasm may suffer in silence rather than speak up and be attacked again. As motivation and morale is eroded, the ability of the team to collaborate deteriorates.

So stop it.

Humor without a victim

When that sarcastic comment forms in your brain, don’t say it out loud. Instead of using sarcasm to make people laugh, cultivate humor that doesn’t require a victim.

When you have a concern, make a direct observation and ask for an open discussion.

And if you’re the victim of sarcasm, here are a few tips to end it. First of all, when someone levels a sarcastic comment at you, don’t ignore it or pretend it didn’t happen.

Look at them and pause. Then repeat what they said word for word. It might sound like this: “Bob, I thought I just heard you say that even an idiot could have written that report.” Then wait.

Bob will probably protest that he was joking or that you don’t have a sense of humor.

That’s the usual way habitually sarcastic people defend their use of sarcasm.

Don’t react. Instead say, “If you have a concern about the report, I’m happy to talk with you about it.” Respond to every one of Bob’s sarcastic comments by repeating exactly what he said and leaving the comment hanging in the air for him to explain.

In no time at all, Bob will realize that you’re not the passive victim he once tormented and he’ll move on to someone else. When he does, be sure to teach them this technique.

Cynthia Clay, President/CEO of NetSpeed Learning Solutions (netspeedlearning.com), is the co-author of Peer Power: Transforming Workplace Relationships (Wiley). Her company helps leaders in global organizations lead better virtually.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lynn September 30, 2015 at 8:01 pm

PS the Word Victim is no longer used. TARGET.


Lynn September 30, 2015 at 7:58 pm

Sarcasm – anger couched in humor.

“Greek word “sarkazein” which literally means “to tear or strip the flesh off.””

That is how damaging this form of bullying can be – not being so “obvious” it can go on and on, while those so “targeted” are often suicidal. Rage (not healthy anger) is just that, someone who is unable to face their own personal hidden “stuff” and therefore take it out on others.

The sad thing about Sarcasm is that his covert form of often dangerous “anger” (ie rage) is used as a form of “funny” and many miss it – sort of. Many feel uncomfortable but every one is “laughing” sort of. There is a strange feeling of “put down”, but everyone is “sort of” laughing so must be ok? Right? Wrong!

It’s worse the overt rage (hitting, physical assault) as one can not “miss” it.


Despite smiling outwardly, most people who receive sarcastic comments feel put down and usually think the sarcastic person is a jerk. Indeed, it’s not surprising that the origin of the word sarcasm derives from the Greek word “sarkazein” which literally means “to tear or strip the flesh off.” Hence, it’s no wonder that sarcasm is often preceded by the word “cutting” and that it hurts.

What’s more, since actions strongly determine thoughts and feelings, when a person consistently acts sarcastically it usually only heightens his or her underlying hostility and insecurity. After all, when you come right down to it, sarcasm is a subtle form of bullying and most bullies are angry, insecure, cowards. Alternatively, when a person stops voicing negative comments, especially sarcastic and critical ones, he or she soon starts to feel happier and more self-confident. Also, the other people in his or her life benefit even faster because they no longer have to hear the emotionally hurtful language of sarcasm.


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