Does sarcasm have a place in leadership? Before you answer that question, let’s make sure we aren’t confusing sarcasm with humor. Humor is something we (and those around us) find funny. Even in tense and frustrating situations we all need to be able to laugh, especially when the other obvious options may be to yell or cry!
Sarcasm, on the other hand, can be biting and hurtful. Sarcastic people often lift themselves up by being sly in how they push others down. It’s easier to get away with belittling others when that belittling is disguised as humor.
When it comes to leadership, sarcasm can be a very dangerous default we get in a habit of displaying when we’re faced with challenges or issues that we must address honestly and realistically.
- Focuses on the stupidity or irony of the problem rather than finding a solution
- Can quickly create an environment that breeds negativity
- Encourages a negative response from those around us
- Belittles instead of builds up
- Discourages our teammates by always focusing on what’s wrong without discussing how to make it right
- Becomes the response others expect from us
- Is usually at the expense of others
I’m not saying we should change our personalities, and I am one who brings in humor whenever I can because I enjoy laughing. What I am saying is that we need to take care to be aware of how our responses impact our own outlook and the outlook of those we influence. The next time you’re tempted to use sarcasm to make your point, stop and ask yourself a few questions.
Questions to Ask
- Does this thought drive negative or positive emotions?
- Am I uplifting or dragging others into drama?
- Will my team follow my lead? Do I want them to follow my actions and attitude?
- Am I focusing on the solution or digging up drama and emotions that fuel the problem?
- Would I want my leader/mother/child to hear me say this?
One last note… when sarcasm involves a person, then most likely it won’t be seen as funny. Instead it’s seen more as someone trying to stir it up. It’s ok to stir up processes and improvements, but when we personalize with names of people then our comments become hurtful and political and no longer focused on solving the problem.