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How to Squash Serial Sarcasm in the Workplace

One of the unique things about working in an office with a lot of different people is that you have to deal with different personality types. This often means closely interacting with people who you otherwise avoid. And while most people have calm demeanors that are easy to get along with, there will always be one or two people who just rub you the wrong way.

Dealing With Workplace Sarcasm

Sarcasm, in and of itself, is fine. It’s often used in humorous situations and can lighten the mood when circumstances are otherwise serious. However, when you have a chronically sarcastic person, it often leads to unnecessary friction. Here are a few tips to help you deal with workplace sarcasm in healthy and effective ways:

Understand the psychology of sarcasm

Before you can confront sarcasm, you must understand the difference between passive and aggressive types. As psychologist Stanley C Loewen says, “The question you have to ask yourself is – is this passive sarcasm designed to be humorous that has the unintentional impact of upsetting you? Or is it aggressive sarcasm that is designed intentionally to be belittling and hurtful? Once you ascertain this, you can then better decide how to progress.”

When sarcasm is meant in a humorous way, you have to remember there are good intentions behind their statements. In these situations, gently telling them you don’t understand their sarcasm is a good option. When sarcasm is meant in an aggressive manner, you’ll need to take a much more direct approach.

Confront aggression head on

When sarcasm is aggressive, you can’t afford to sit back. It’s imperative that you confront the aggression head on and have a very frank conversation with the individual. Subtle comments don’t work. Say the most direct thing possible, such as, “Your sarcasm is really hurtful and I wish you would speak in a more forthcoming manner.” Because sarcastic people are often insecure, the individual will probably get defensive. However, they’ll eventually consider their actions and hopefully change their ways.

Ignore sarcasm altogether

People often use sarcasm as a way of getting noticed. They may be socially-awkward and use sarcasm when they don’t know what else to say. In these cases, the quickest way to quell sarcastic comments is by ignoring them altogether.

As soon as someone directs even a hint of sarcasm towards you, just look away and speak with someone else. This tells them that you have no interest in their tone of voice and will only interact with people who are serious and professional.

Consider correcting them

One of the quickest ways to eliminate sarcasm is by correcting the offender each time they make a sarcastic statement. For example, consider the following workplace exchange:

You: “It looks like everyone is here. What time is it, Mary?”

Mary: “Time for you to get a watch.”

While this is a classic sarcastic comment, you can avoid exchanges like this in the future by correcting the individual right away. Say something like, “Mary, I’m obviously asking you for the time so that I know when to start the meeting. Can you tell me if it’s 12 o’clock yet?”

Be stern with subordinates

If you’re a manager or executive in your company and have a problem with subordinates using constant sarcasm, then you can definitely have a frank conversation about it.

“Tell him what behavior you have observed,” business coach Steve Smith says. “Focus on the behavior and not him. Tell him what reactions you are being made aware of.  Ask him why he believes this kind of behavior is the best reflection of him.  Finish by letting him know that you support him as an employee but you must see effort from him to distinguish the sarcasm.”

Putting it all together

If sarcasm becomes an issue in your workplace, then you need to confront it head on. The longer you let sarcastic personalities drive wedges in between relationships, the more damage it can do. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll quickly stop sarcastic comments in their tracks.

Author: Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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