Employee Behavior: What’s Really Behind your Employees’ Sarcastic Remarks

Dealing with employee behavior can be tricky, but your goal should be to moderate the sarcastic team member in your office by discovering the true reason behind their...

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2. Latent Anger

Sarcasm can be used as 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 animals with the way this kitchen looks!” Or an employee could say to a peer, “My four-year old could write up a better presentation than that.”

3. 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— and those on the receiving end of sarcastic comments tend to rate the incidents as malicious and annoying. 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.

Dealing with Unacceptable Employee Behavior

What can you do if you have someone on your team that is overly sarcastic and negatively impacting their peers? 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 more “genuine approach” by taking everything they say as a literal 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?”

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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, you should encourage your team to interact positively via genuine communication.

Do you have an employee who is trying to cover up other issues with sarcasm? Let me know in the comments section below.

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Photo Credit: J.Crew

Vanessa Van Petten, the 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.

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