CHICAGO–Everyone just loves sarcasm, right? It makes everyone feel good and warm and fuzzy, so the more biting the quips, the better, especially in the workplace!
Writing on Inc.com, Jessica Stillman noted that most career coaches would instruct everyone looking to get ahead to avoid sarcasm at work, as it doesn't exactly seem like a surefire strategy to build alliances.
“Except maybe they're all totally wrong,” wrote Stillman. “That's the suggestion of research on sarcasm that is bound to cheer fans of snarky comments everywhere. Apparently, sarcasm doesn't just make you happy; it can also help you be more creative and successful.”
Stillman pointed to a study, The Highest Form of Intelligence: Sarcasm Increases Creativity Through Abstract Thinking for Both Expressers and Recipients, conducted by a team of researchers from Harvard, Columbia, and Insead that tested the effects of sarcasm by having volunteers engage in a sincere, a sarcastic, or a neutral (control) exchange before completing a task designed to assess their creativity.
What did the researchers find? Sarcasm, it turns out, is a pretty good mental workout, Stillman said.
"To create or decode sarcasm, both the expressers and recipients of sarcasm need to overcome the contradiction (i.e., psychological distance) between the literal and actual meanings of the sarcastic expressions,” according to Harvard’s Francesca Gino. “This is a process that activates and is facilitated by abstraction, which in turn promotes creative thinking.”
Another member of the team, Alan Galinsky, added that the result was “those in the sarcasm conditions subsequently performed better on creativity tasks than those in the sincere conditions or the control condition. This suggests that sarcasm has the potential to catalyze creativity in everyone.”
In short, sarcastic comments make your whole team more creative, so go ahead and let fly with the occasional snide-but-hilarious comment, observed Stillman.
Before You Get Carried Away...
Stillman noted that while that is “happy news for the more sarcastically inclined, but before you get carried away, the researchers caution that this finding shouldn't be taken as a blank check to be sarcastic whenever and wherever the mood strikes you. If you don't want to hurt people and burn bridges, you need to restrict your remarks to contexts where trust has already been established.”
As Galinsky explained, “While most previous research seems to suggest that sarcasm is detrimental to effective communication because it is perceived to be more contemptuous than sincerity, we found that, unlike sarcasm between parties who distrust each other, sarcasm between individuals who share a trusting relationship does not generate more contempt than sincerity.”