A recent coaching session with a client triggered some thinking about the use of “sarcasm” in conversations. This client wanted to change an ineffective/damaging behavior to become more effective in his communications with people most important to him. He realized that he was in a habit of being sarcastic and had an “aha” moment when he realized that he could be damaging important relationships!
While we are all guilty of being sarcastic upon occasion, for some people it can become a bad habit that is hard to break. I remember a friend I had many years ago who was extremely sarcastic. When I first met her, I thought she was funny – she always seemed to get a laugh from others when she spewed her sarcastic remarks. As time went on, I noticed the effect that her sarcasm had on her young daughter. She had unknowingly established a behavior pattern which was causing real damage to her daughter’s self esteem. And her use of frequent sarcasm eventually took a toll on our relationship.
What is sarcasm? The Merriam-Webster definition: “Sarcasm” can be traced back to the Greek verb sarkazein, which initially meant, “to tear flesh like a dog.” Even today sarcasm is often described as sharp, cutting, or wounding, reminiscent of the original meaning of the Greek verb. I believe that frequent users of sarcasm are really displaying some degree of bullying, insecurity or hostility.
When having an interaction with a spouse, child, co-worker, family member or friend, or anyone who looks at us for leadership, values, and guidance – do we really want to deride, mock, ridicule or scorn those to whom our sarcastic remark is being directed? Hopefully, not! As leaders in our families, businesses and communities, using sarcasm directed at another person can result in irreparable damage to that person’s self esteem and your relationship with them.
So if you are guilty of being sarcastic on a frequent basis, you might ask yourself:
- Am I being witty, or am I really being sarcastic?
- What’s behind my need to be sarcastic – am I insecure, what do I fear, why am I hostile?
- How do I really want to “BE” with this person? How important is this relationship?
- What effect do I really want to achieve? Do I have another route?
- How will my actions affect the person to whom my barb is directed?
While an occasional sarcastic remark can be ok in certain situations, if relationships are important to you – and they should be, then you may need to examine your use of sarcasm and develop some plan of action to change this non-effective behavior. We can all be more sensitive to the needs of others as we continue to strive for more effective relationships!