First a quote: ““Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence.” – Oscar Wilde
I’m guessing all of us have experienced that socially awkward moment when someone says something sarcastic to be funny, and that something, was anything but funny. In fact, more often than not, it was downright hurtful, rude, mean-spirited, and/or inappropriate. Others may laugh, but only out of an effort to relieve the uncomfortable nature of what just happened.
Unfortunately, the guilty party hears people laugh and assumes the group is impressed by their quick wit, superior intellect and brilliant sense of humor. Truth be told, they may be exceptionally intelligent, and have a sharp wit, they may also possess very little sense and/or minimal social awareness.
This week, while working with a group of leaders on the east coast, we explored the topic of what I call “executive presence.” For more than 30 years I have been asking people to describe the characteristics and behaviors they admire in leaders they’ve known and respected. The key word here is respected.
While having a sense of humor almost always makes the list, sarcasm never does. Most people appreciate, and respect, self-deprecating humor. Humor and sarcasm, at the expense of others however is often viewed as disrespectful and inappropriate. Overused; sarcasm destroys trust, credibility, respect, relationships, teamwork, and even marriages.
Please know I can enjoy a brilliantly timed bit of crafty sarcasm as much as anyone else. However, in my experience, the downside risks of using sarcasm as humor, far outweigh the possible positives associated with this approach. In order for leaders to earn the respect of others, they themselves must be respectful of others. Sarcasm is rarely respectful and usually, not funny to the recipient, even if it gets nervous laughter from others.
The origin of the word sarcasm derives from the Greek word “sarkazein” which literally means “to tear or strip the flesh off.” While the recipient of a sarcastic remark may smile on the outside, they often feel belittled and disrespected on the inside. They secretly feel like you just ripped off a strip of flesh. Rather than being seen for their leadership qualities, the overly sarcastic person is often seen as a first-class jerk.
Certainly, an occasional dash of sarcasm might provide a bit of spice and humor to your relationships. It may be wise to use in very small doses, and even then, only occasionally. Think of Tabasco Sauce as an example. While an occasional dash of Tabasco will add spice and flavor to any food, too much and too often will overpower the meal. Just like too much sarcasm can overpower and destroy our relationships.
Are you using too much sarcasm in your important relationships? With a little conscious effort, you should be able to change potentially destructive sarcasm into positive and uplifting wit that is truly funny. For most, sarcasm is cheap and easy. Clever wit usually funnier, healthier, safer and a positive characteristic of many highly respected leaders.
How will you live and lead differently, or better, this week?
Do you know someone who might benefit from this weekly leadership minute? If so, please feel free to pass along the subscription link below:
Have a great week!
“Expanding Your Capacity for Success”