Leaders Address Sarcasm During Conflict

Sarcasm has no place in effective leadership.

That’s not the most popular thing I’ve said, but it needs to be said frequently.

It’s personally frustrating, because sarcasm has been a big part of my sense of humor most of my life. But it’s gotten me into trouble at least as often as it’s gotten me laughs.

People don’t need their leaders to keep them guessing; they need clarity, and sarcasm clouds it.

Here’s another reason to avoid it: if sarcasm is part of the culture, then when we get stressed, it’s easy to slip it into conflict situations.

In conflict, sarcasm is the harsh extension of passive-aggression. It allows us to take a camouflaged shot at someone or express our hostility without revealing our real motivations.

We may not be committed enough to yell, but still want to take them down a notch. Another reason sarcasm is tempting in the midst of conflict is the ability to claim, “I’m just joking… come on, lighten up.”

“Just kidding!” does not give us immunity after subtly attacking or demeaning someone.

What to do?

Ask yourself, “If jokes are half-truths, what truth am I unwilling to express?”

Then, be specific and calmly say what you mean. This builds trust instead of tearing it down.

This is the 15th post in an 18-part series discussing what not to do during conflict situations. Effective leaders avoid portraying these 18 behaviors during conflict and address them in others. Follow along as we explore the negative impact of these behaviors, and what to do instead. 

Post 1: Leaders Address Arguing During Conflict
Post 2: Leaders Address Belittling During Conflict
Post 3: Leaders Address Caving In During Conflict
Post 4: Leaders Address Being Defensive During Conflict   
Post 5: Leaders Address Dismissing Others’ Opinions During Conflict 
Post 6: Leaders Address Drama During Conflict
Post 7: Leaders Address Exaggerating During Conflict 
Post 8: Leaders Address Exclusion During Conflict
Post 9: Leaders Address Finger-Pointing During Conflict
Post 10: Leaders Address Gossiping During Conflict
Post 11: Leaders Address Hyper-Criticism During Conflict
Post 12: Leaders Address Overpowering During Conflict
Post 13: Leaders Address Passive-Aggressiveness During Conflict 
Post 14: Leaders Address Seeking Revenge During Conflict

8 Responses

  1. Sally
    | Reply

    One of your best. How did you break your own habit? Or what do you do now to avoid sarcasm?

    • Alan Feirer
      | Reply

      Thanks! I told people out loud that I was giving up sarcasm. I invited them to challenge me if they caught me in the act. I started that process in about 2005. The last time a friend of mine said “Hey – that was sarcastic – I thought you gave that up” was LAST WEEK. Steve won’t let anything slide.

  2. Erin L.
    | Reply

    Love this entire series! I have several notes to myself on my computer that I reflect on every day, the main ones being “What am I afraid will happen if I am direct?” and “What is the actual reason my emotions are so intense right now?” Your posts are concise, and I appreciate the immediate applicability to my personal and professional life. Thanks for being a fantastic resource!

    • Alan Feirer
      | Reply

      Well, thanks for the kind affirmation! That’ll keep me fed for more. I appreciate those specific examples so much.

  3. Kathy Lynn
    | Reply

    Be specific. Build trust. “Always meet needs.”

    • Alan Feirer
      | Reply

      It all ties together, Kathy, doesn’t it? By the way, heard Angela Franklin speak this morning, and it was very cool. And consistent with this stuff. Thanks for weighing in.

  4. Rachel McKinniss
    | Reply

    Thanks Al! I have been preaching this for years in the context of counseling. It is such a relationship destroyer for it allows passive aggression to win!

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