What Your Sarcastic Employee Isn't Telling You

sarcastic employeeBy Vanessa Van Petten

There's always someone in the office who is the "class clown" who gets everyone's spirits up by jokingly putting one person down. Sarcastically, of course. So it's not really mean behavior then, right? However, new research reveals that sarcasm is merely thinly-veiled meanness, a way of covering contempt or hate because the person making the pun believes their words are less hurtful than their victim thinks.

Sarcasm is not only hurtful, it is also the least genuine mode of communication. Moderate the sarcastic team member in your office by discovering the true reason for the constant comments-even if that person is you. Sarcasm is usually sourced from:

  • Insecurity. Whenever someone adopts a sarcastic tone, try to gauge if they're feeling insecure about something. For some, using sarcasm or teasing is a way of avoiding confrontation because they are afraid of asking for what they want. If a mother says to her son,"You look like a mountain man with that beard; your Grandma will barely recognize you," is there a request hidden somewhere in there?

  • Latent Anger. Sarcasm can also be a passive aggressive way to assert dominance. Someone who is both upset and afraid to discuss the reason for their anger will often use sarcasm as a disguised barb. A wife might say to her husband who forgot to take out the trash, "You'd think we're living like lazy trash beetles with the way this kitchen looks!"

  • Social Awkwardness. When people aren't good at reading those around them, or aren't sure how to carry on a conversation, they will often employ sarcasm and hope it sounds playful or affectionate. This is just another kind of insecurity, but you will often hear loners at parties or networking events use sarcasm as an attempt to lighten the mood or bond. Unfortunately it tends to have the opposite effect - teasees tend to rate sarcastic incidents as malicious and annoying. Mentioning a comment like,"This buffet spread is pretty weak, guess it mirrors this company's portfolio, huh?" may not be the best way to stand out at a networking event.

What can you do if you have someone sarcastic in your work environment? If you're okay with being direct, send them a link to this article or post it on Facebook and see if they get the loud hint.

Otherwise, try a "genuine approach" by taking everything they say as a genuine comment without the sarcastic tone. For example, when someone recently said to me with sarcasm, "I can barely recognize you with all of that makeup on!" I responded with genuine concern: "Oh wow, really? Do you think people have trouble realizing that it's me?"

She quickly became flustered and said something along the lines of, "Well it's not that I couldn't recognize you...I mean it was...well...oh, never mind." After a few rounds of banter where I repeatedly applied the "genuine approach," we eventually started to have a real conversation and make genuine comments-which we received warmly and with encouragement.

Though lighthearted sarcasm can be fun, a workplace should encourage genuine communication. Do you have a coworker who is trying to cover something up with sarcasm?

Vanessa Van Petten, author of Science of People, specializes in social and emotional intelligence research and development. The focus of her company is to research youth behavior and help adults keep up with young adults. She is a member of The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs.

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What a waste of time space and print,

February 26 2012 at 3:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sarcasm is a bodys natural defense against stupid. I'd say the person who wrote this artical can't take a joke and often find them selves feeling left out. You sure wouldn't get along in my house. We live love and laugh. I feel sorry for people who can't under stand sarcasm. They must live a real boring life.

February 26 2012 at 3:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sarcasm, if done in a humorous way, as on the tv show, "Seinfeld", can be a good thing, too. People need to develop a thicker skin and stop whining.

February 26 2012 at 2:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Your writing staff is just amazing ! Your automotive experts take subways to work on the 65th floor and don't posess a drivers license, now this. Knowledge is power, you ......................................

February 26 2012 at 2:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"I can barely recognize you with all of that makeup on!"

Sarcasm - "a sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark; a bitter jibe or taunt", usually conveyed through irony or understatement.

Such statement would only be sarcastic if you arrived without makeup or minimal makeup after having been previously mistaken as a Kiss impersonator or Mimi from Drew Carey.
The beard thing, should have been asking if he were getting ready for a job interview or attending some black tie affair.
The garbage, asking if we are expecting company.
The buffet, are we expecting a foreign dignitary or can the company really afford all this.

If it's real sarcasm and not just mean exaggerated statements, genuine statements in reply is when it gets really fun. Maybe you can use that as a test as to whether it's sarcasm or just mean statements?

Kids respond well to sarcasm. Tell a kid his room needs cleaning or looks like a pig sty and you'll get pouting, grumbling, etc. Look around the kids room and say "Oh wow, do you have a friend coming over you're trying to impress?", they'll usually look at the mess, chuckle or go "daddyyyyyyy" then proceed to pick up the worse of it without complaint. It has to be changing and new otherwise it'll be translated as "pick up your room" and the grumbling will ensue. Properly done, it points out that there is a problem, the humor shows that you put forth effort in your communication, value them as a person by doing so and shows that it's nothing against them, just that there's a problem.

It can be a good test for psychological issues. If you don't give the standard "I hate you" or gushing congratulations to the valedictorian that scored a 99% on a test and instead say "If only you'd studied more, better luck next time" and they are actually apologetic or break down crying, yeah there's a problem (actually had this one happen).

February 26 2012 at 2:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ty's comment

Thank you Ty. I was struck as I read this that the author doesn't know the definition of sarcasm. Her examples are just snide statements. True sarcasm is communication technique that very few can master.

February 26 2012 at 4:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I watched alot of Disney shows this past week due to a visiting nephew and it is amazing to me how sarcastic and punchliny all these "kid" shows are.

February 26 2012 at 1:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What a bunch of BS. People are diffrent, ot machines. not eveyone is going to be the same.

February 26 2012 at 1:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

and even articles telling us how to behave...

February 26 2012 at 12:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I guess it just couldn't be that some job's / bosses are so bad that there is no other place to go but sarcasm. The rules at some jobs are so off the wall that it is humorus. Company's don't promote by who is best for the job but who will just do what they are told. They will take credit for things that they didn't do and throw anyone under the bus thinking it will make them look better. Face it that's just the way it is, you can't get by just being the best at your job.

February 26 2012 at 12:40 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mrmuffinmanvw's comment

It's much more complicated than that, not only do they have to do what they're told but they must tell bald faced lies to those under them in such a way that they can't be called on them :b

February 26 2012 at 1:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Your desriptions of sarcastic comments don't sound like sarcasm at all; they sound like blatant criticism and passive-aggressiveness. Sarcasm is more like satire, but delivered in an exaggerated tone to reduce the risk of it being interpreted at face value.

February 26 2012 at 12:35 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

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