Struggles With Sarcasm

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Sarcasm is something I struggle to control; unsuccessfully at times I must add. It’s easy for me to see the irony in situations and poke fun at the obvious. But this form of humor has a very dark side.

Sarcasm is a form of ridicule. It allows me to take a clean shot at someone’s idea without revealing my real motivation. In conflict situations, sarcasm is my excuse to be mean without raising my voice. It even provides cover when I’m confronted with my bad behavior. “Can’t you take a joke?” is an easy way to shift the blame back to them.

I’m embarrassed by how many times my use of sarcasm has hurt people I love, including my wife and other family members and friends. Just acknowledging it in writing is hard to do.

One reason I like to use sarcasm during conflict is because I hate being wrong or taken advantage of. A sarcastic zinger during a meeting or critical conversation sends a message that you shouldn’t mess with my logic.

On two occasions this past week, I had opportunity to reflect upon some of my common destructive behaviors during conflict situations. Sarcasm is one of several responses that made the list.

Here are some ways I hope to curb my use of sarcasm in the future.

  • Acknowledge the automatic thoughts that trigger this response. They include: “You have no idea what you are talking about.” If I admit a mistake, I’ll lose my credibility.” “You’re trying to blame me.” By recognizing how these automatic thoughts impact me in conflict situations, I can take steps to address them.
  • Acknowledge the role of emotions. Anger and anxiety have a tendency to cloud my judgment and perspectives during conflict. Getting angry is empowering, and I tend to feel anxious when I’m afraid I could be wrong. Being honest about how I feel, or stepping back from feeling frustrated, can help prevent an emotional outburst. It also leaves room for other approaches.
  • Reframe my automatic thoughts. I can question the validity of my thoughts, acknowledge how I might be overreacting, or consider other ways to see the situation. This seems simple but takes practice and discipline.
  • Choose a productive response. This might include some challenging alternatives for me. Things like, apologizing, showing flexibility, or acknowledging the feelings of others.

I’m sharing these reflections as a way to encourage others who may not realize how damaging sarcasm can be. My journey is just beginning as I try to change nearly six decades of learned behavior. Consider joining me if this behavior is something you struggle with too.

Remember, there is nothing funny about a sarcastic comment even when you’re trying to be humorous.

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Ken Byler is Principal and Founder of Higher Ground Consulting Group, LLC, a Souderton, Pennsylvania firm that has provided leadership training, coaching, and facilitation services since 2002. He is an Authorized Partner for Everything DiSC®, The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™, and PXT Select™ all registered trademarks of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.