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  • The Damage of Using Sarcasm in Workplace Communication

    Workplace Communication

    At a special time within my seminar on The 7 Deadliest Communication Sins, I ask two very important questions about audience members’ experience with regard to a specific issue around interpersonal communication and workplace communication.

    These two questions are:

    • How many of you have a tendency to use sarcasm?
    • How many of you have ever been on the receiving end of a sarcastic comment that was hurtful?

    Virtually all members of the audience respond to one or both of these questions.

    This is informal and unscientific research, certainly. Yet, it speaks volumes about the depth of this communication style and its impact.

    In my leadership and workplace communication seminars I discuss how damaging sarcastic communication is to relationships.

    Sarcasm is a passive aggressive communication habit that undermines trust between individuals and trust is at the core of one’s ability to get things done in organizations.

    Sarcasm offers just 2 outcomes – it either instantly kills the relationship or it begins to slowly erode the relationship.

    Both of those outcomes are usually unbeknownst to the perpetrator.

    There is no positive upside to using sarcasm. It offers only short-term positive impact for the sarcastic person whose ego may get a boost by putting others down in this manner.

    Now, it will be couched in the context of humor and trying to be funny. Yet, that humor comes at the expense of someone else.

    If it gets confronted, which it rarely does, the victim is labeled as someone who “has no sense of humor” or whom “can’t take a joke.”

    For those reading this that are open to changing this habit to create more positive, trusting relationships with their workplace colleagues, I’ve developed a simple four-step process to communicate in a way that builds relationships based on high levels of trust:

    1. Identify one or more persons (no more than 3) with whom you most regularly communicate with in this way (for me it was my wife).
    2. Apologize for past transgressions letting them know you have recently realized this is a problem and may be negatively impacting your relationship. Let them know you want to improve and change this style of communicating and ask them to give you feedback to which you will be open to hearing whenever you do it.
    3. The next time it happens and you know you’ve violated your standards in communicating take a step back and evaluate why you did it. Ask this series of questions:
      • What was your intent behind that style of communicating?
      • What point were you trying to make?
      • In relation to this situation what do you believe about:
        • The situation
        • The other person
        • Yourself
    4. In communicating to make this point and achieve this intent, what is your greatest fear?
    5. If you were to communicate more directly and say what you needed to say properly so there is no confusion, so that it is more specific, and so that it supports the person with whom you are communicating in a positive way…
      • What would you say differently?
      • How would you say it differently?
      • What would you ask them for?

    There is a fine line between joyful teasing between trusted colleagues or life partners, and biting sarcasm that undermines relationships. The receiver of the communication is always the determinant as to whether it crosses the line. It is out of the control of the communicator. Sometimes it crosses a line and becomes bad workplace communication.

    I’m no longer willing to give up the control of the meaning of my message, are you?

    Skip Weisman, The Leadership & Workplace Communication Expert, has worked with business leaders and their teams to transform both individual and organizational performance in industries from banks to plumbers since 2001. Skip’s experience helping his clients has shown that the biggest problems in workplaces today can be directly traced to interpersonal communication between people in the work environment. Having spent 20 years in professional baseball management, his first career in which he served as CEO for five different franchises, has given Skip tremendous insights and skills for build high-performing teams.  To help small business leaders create a championship culture with employees performance at the highest levels, Skip recently published this white paper report The Missing Ingredient Necessary to Improve Employee Performance. Download a free copy of this report at The Missing Ingredient Necessary to Improve Employee Performance. During a 20-year career in professional baseball management, Skip served as CEO for five different franchises. That experience gave Skip tremendous insight and skill for building high-performing teams in the workplace and championship cultures.

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