Is there someone on your team who always seems to have a sarcastic remark? Maybe that someone is you. While a quick wit can often lighten the load and bring a smile, it can also derail meetings and shut people down.

Karin Hurt and David Dye, keynote leadership speakers, trainers and award-winning authors, say sarcasm often runs rampant in the workplace. In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we share their insight into why sarcasm is dangerous at work and how to be more effective.

Sarcasm creates shame in the target. People will do almost anything to feel good about themselves. If you shame a person when you have positional power, you have put them in a difficult “fight or flight” position, say Hurt and Dye.

You get the opposite of what you want. A skilled self-aware person might come and talk to you about it, but otherwise, they’ll find another way to get even—perhaps they resort to similar “humor” behind your back, undermine you or reduce their work effort.

You give permission for everyone to do it. Before long, your clever comeback has bred a caustic workplace where negativity reigns, say Hurt and Dye. At the extreme, it may cause hostile work environments with human resources implications.

It doesn’t build anything. You might make someone stop doing something by being sarcastic and shaming them, but you’ll never create a new positive behavior this way.
You limit creativity. Consistent sarcasm creates an atmosphere where no one will try a new idea. The risk of failure and incurring shame is too great.

It drains energy. Dye and Hurt say people do their best work when they’re in the zone—when they feel competent, challenged and ready to do their best. Sarcasm and humor at another person’s expense create doubt and negative energy.

It destroys trust. Your team needs to know you have their best interests at heart. Even if you do, sarcasm makes them wonder.

Instead of using sarcasm, you can be effective and funny by:

Starting with results. Stop and ask yourself what you really want. What results do you look for? Encourage, inspire, teach, coach, show—Hurt and Dye say these are always more effective than sarcasm.

Address issues directly. Never use humor to deal with behavior or performance problems. This creates more problems and does nothing to help the situation.

Use humor effectively. Any comedian can tell you that there is always one safe target to make fun of: yourself. Self-effacing humor displays humility and tells your people that you don’t feel you’re better than they are and that you don’t take yourself too seriously.

Deal with yourself. If you’re carrying around hurt or insecurity and regularly mask it with sarcasm or making fun of others, Dye and Hurt encourage you to take some time to reflect on what’s going on with yourself.

Clean up. If you have potentially hurt others in the past, apologize and make it right.

If sarcasm has crept into your workplace, try using the tips above to create a healthier culture.

Source: Karin Hurt and David Dye are keynote leadership speakers, trainers and the award-winning authors of Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul.