The phone rings as you’re staring out of the office window onto a dull, rainy car park. It’s a client you’ve not talked to for a while. You ask them ironically if they’re enjoying the best of the British summer, and hear the smile in their voice as they commiserate with you about the famously idiosyncratic climate. You may not think that sarcasm has much to do with business success, but it does. This is the way that humour, rapport and relationships are built. The client conversation goes well, and your snarky comment, in its own way, has helped you on your road to success today.
See Also: How to Deal with Sarcastic Coworkers
And it’s not only our habitual moaning about the weather that helps us sarcastic souls. There are many ways that sarcasm can make you more successful - from better relationships to a sharper brain. Interested in putting your natural snarky streak to work for you? Read on to find out how and why sarcasm can improve your career success.
Sarcasm can make you more attractive to others
Research has found that the use of sarcasm (and indeed humour more generally) makes you more attractive to others - a super power in both professional and private fields. In an experiment, researchers had a male subject tell funny jokes to his friends in a bar, in the earshot of a female who did not know she was part of a research study. The friends then leave, and the joker asks the girl nearby for her number. The results showed that he was far more likely to get her number if he had previously been obviously amusing his friends, than in a control group where he simply asked for the number without demonstrating his ability to make his friends laugh. Carried out in a ’real’ environment, rather than a lab, this experiment proves that humour can improve attraction - important in work just as much as when you’re trying to get a date.
The fact is that humour can be used to build relationships and create group identity. The first example in the article intro shows a common application of sarcastic humour used to build client relationships. The same can be true of cultivating team identity - a working culture grows through shared jokes and humorous experience, and by helping your team work better together you too will have a greater chance of success.
Sarcasm promotes creativity
When they’re not contributing more usefully to the sum of human knowledge, researchers have clearly got a bit of a soft spot for the sarcastic. A second research paper into sarcasm showed that sarcasm can promote creativity and problem solving - in direct opposition to anger, which dampens creativity. The report in the Journal of Applied Psychology tested the reaction of engineering students after hearing either an angry exchange or a sarcastic one. After this, they were set a problem solving exercise, and those who had overheard the sarcastic exchange were able to perform better in the task. The report suggests that this might be because the mental energy required to decode sarcasm gets the brain ready for more complex thought.
If you ever wondered why that snarky boss always seems to get the best from their team, this might just be your answer. When you simply can’t resist the urge to drop in a sarcastic comment, at least you’re helping those around you sharpen their thinking and produce more creative results.
Sarcasm can make you (and those round you) smarter
Snarky people already know they’re smart. People who use sarcasm tend to be able to read others well, as they are used to communicating ’between the lines’ with their words rarely meant at face value. All this thinking is good for the brain - keeping ahead of the game ready to deliver a sharp quip or put down is great mental exercise.
A sharp wit shows a sharp mind and is a good indicator of future career success. The even better news is that sarcasm makes everyone sharper. Both using and understanding sarcastic comments takes more mental effort, and can therefore make people brighter. Think of that cutting comment as a little contribution to your team mates’ cognitive capabilities.
Using humour to express and deal with emotion is healthy
An additional important reason that sarcasm can contribute to success lies in the fact that dealing with emotion at work - rather than suppressing it - is healthy. Whilst most expressions of emotion in the workplace would be frowned upon, sarcasm, irony and humour can be excellent ways to channel the emotion if you’re not the wall punching, flouncing type. Help keep your cool through tough situations with a little dollop of sarcasm and it will keep your mental health and well-being at work in tip top form too.
Workplaces where emotion is expressed rather than hidden tend to have better morale and relationships, meaning that encouraging the use of humour to vent can help not only you but your wider team on the way to success.
Sarcastic people need to be able to take a joke
If you give it, you’ve got to be able to take it! Individuals who use sarcasm in work can most likely take a joke. This builds resilience and an ability to hear feedback and criticism without taking it personally - key skills for a successful career. Snarky people probably don’t take themselves too seriously either, making them more confident when faced with ambiguity and risk taking. You rarely find a sarcastic person lost for words - making them perfect people to keep conversations flowing, and help a group move through an awkward silence easily.
The overlap of humour and leadership behaviours is notable, and many of the skills needed for business success go hand in hand with an ability to make (and take) a joke.
Pick your moment!
There are clearly some ways that sarcasm can help promote career success. A sense of humour is not something that features on many job descriptions, but it can certainly help grease the wheels in many working environments. It comes, however, with a health warning. Sarcasm has its place in the office, but you can have too much of a good thing.
Deployed wrongly sarcasm can inflame an already difficult situation. Don’t use sarcasm with customers if they have complaints, for example, or with clients or colleagues you don’t know well. Be wary also of using sarcasm or ’in jokes’ to create cliques or exclude colleagues or customers.
Be on the lookout also for cultural issues - even your best snarky jokes might not cross borders. Trying out your smart mouth with a new customer from a different part of the world could backfire or at the very least confuse.
Finally, to be safe, think carefully before using sarcasm against individuals. A well-tuned snarky comment can be an insult dressed as glowing praise, but a clumsy use can feel like a direct attack. Sarcastic humour works best when aimed at situations rather than people - at least until you’re already good friends.
The use of humour in the workplace is a leadership skill in itself. Often overlooked, it is a great way to build rapport and help people get along. Every team has a member who can be relied on to lighten the atmosphere when things get tricky, with a well-timed joke or observation. They’re fun to work with, help the team gel and can use these skills to build a successful career platform. If you’re holding back your sarcastic streak, then maybe adding a sprinkling of humour to your every day life could be the career development boost you need. And after all, we all want to laugh more at work, don’t we?