I made sarcastic comments for years without a second thought. I assumed that everybody did and I didn’t see anything wrong with it. It was all in good fun….right?
Well, two things happened that caused me to rethink my attitude towards sarcastic remarks.
First, I had a baby. 5 minutes after I read that positive pregnancy test, I was overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy. I started joking with my husband that I had nine months to clean up my act and be a perfect mom! I needed to swear off the pop tarts, swap diet coke for water, and purge my vocabulary of words like “crap” and “dude.” I didn’t do much about it, but I recognized that a change could be desirable.
The second event occurred years later. I joined a team of women; we were leading a project together. They were a little older than me; I respected them and was eager to learn from their older-and-wiser example. I did learn a lot. But I was also shocked at the nonstop sarcastic comments flying through the air at our meetings.
“That was really thoughtful.”
“You’re so graceful.”
“You did a great job with that.”
Do the above sound like compliments? If only! When spoken with a snide tone and arched eyebrow, the above were put-downs uttered in response to: an unreturned pen, a spilled drink, and an omitted meeting announcement. Sarcastic jokes aren’t funny. They’re mean, and it’s painful to watch (or receive).
The example of those women inspired me to action. If that’s what sarcasm looks like, I don’t want any part of it. And ladies, that is what it looks like. You don’t have to talk like that. You can do better.
Here are 10 reasons to put the sarcasm aside.
1. Sarcasm is ambiguous.
Sarcasm depends heavily on tone of voice, body language and other nonverbal cues to be properly understood. The true meaning of a sarcastic message is easily lost over the phone–and you can forget about sarcastic comments being properly understood in written communication. Sarcasm often goes unnoticed without the change in inflection or raised eyebrow to signal its presence. And if you miss those cues, sarcastic remarks don’t make any sense.
2. Sarcasm translates poorly.
ESL teachers are taught to never use sarcasm: it’s just not understood by their students.
3. Sarcasm is a defense mechanism.
It’s not a very good one, because of the inherent negative nature of sarcasm. If you need a positive defense mechanism, make it laughter. (Just make sure it’s friendly laughter.)
4. Sarcasm is cynical.
Do you want to be known as a person who is “scornfully and habitually negative”? That’s the dictionary definition of a cynic. Sarcasm is both a product and reinforcer of negative thinking. Find some happier thoughts. Don’t wallow in negativity.
5. Sarcasm is mean.
The element of humor takes the edge off a bit, but sarcasm is often used to veil truly hurtful criticism. Don’t be a bully; drop the sarcasm.
6. Sarcasm is for cowards.
The touch of humor in sarcastic comments can hide criticisms far too aggressive to be spoken plainly. If you can’t bring yourself to directly say what you really mean, you shouldn’t say it at all.
7. Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.
…according to Oscar Wilde. Take Emily Post’s advice instead: “As a possession for either man or woman, a ready smile is more valuable in life than a ready wit.”
8. Sarcasm is a means of judging others.
Do you really need to belittle others to make yourself look better? Don’t be the jerk with the superiority complex. Use kind words instead.
9. Sarcasm wastes words that could be put to better use.
Kind words are the best thing we can give another person. Sarcasm trades kindness for cruelty. It serves no higher purpose; it builds no one up.
How to stop being sarcastic
- If you are a frequent offender in the sarcasm department, it’s likely you already know. But if you need evidence: pay attention to your words, use a digital recorder, or ask a friend.
- Evaluate your speech patterns. Are you happy with them?
Decide to make the change.
Don’t skip this step–change doesn’t happen by accident! I knew–for years–that my tongue needed a bit of taming. But it was years before I actually decided to take action.
Pay attention to the way other people talk. Do you know people who have a particularly kind way with words? Anyone who is especially cruel? Spend some time thinking about how you want to use your words–and equally importantly–how you don’t.
Make your plan.
Once you’ve decided to ditch the sarcasm, make a plan to break the bad habit. Sometimes, just paying attention–and promising yourself you’ll think before you spe ak–can do wonders. If this isn’t enough, try wearing a rubber band on your wrist and giving yourself a little snap when you let a sarcastic comment escape. Or make a mark on a pocket notebook so you can see how you’re doing. Quantifying your speech can really hasten improvement.
And tell somebody that you’re working to stop being sarcastic and to speak with kindness instead. Someone who sees a lot of you would be best. (Also, they have the most to gain by your new-and-improved speech, so they should be motivated to assist!) My husband just said to me two hours ago–very innocently–”Was that sarcastic?” in response to a comment I had made. Well, yes it was, but I hadn’t even noticed.
Give yourself a couple of weeks; then pause for review. Go back to the top of the list–and rate yourself again. Are you making progress? Or do you need to recommit to the change?
You’ve had a lifetime to form your speech patterns–but it doesn’t have to take a lifetime to unlearn bad habits! Are you getting rid of sarcastic speech? Tell us, and share your progress!
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