We live in the golden age of sarcasm. Trolls, digs, and burns are some of our most potent modern communication currencies, wielded by everyone from senior government officials to frustrated customer service representatives.

Confession time, and with apologies to a line from The Christmas Story, I worked in sarcasm the way other artists might work in oils or clay; it was my true medium. Earlier in my career, I used it to build stronger bonds with colleagues while offering a pointed critique of above-my-paygrade decisions, processes, and policies with which I disagreed. Further, I got a little dopamine hit every time my colleagues would laugh at a well-timed remark.

Lugging around a reputation for sarcastic subversion, I started to see that I was missing opportunities to have a greater impact within my organization. Projects that would make sense for me to lead ended up under the leadership of others. I was passed over for opportunities to be a more public face. It took me years to put two-and-two together, but once it added up, I realized that I had built a brand that wasn’t as trustworthy as I would have liked.

Are you someone who is a master of sarcasm? Is your culture one that enables it? Here’s what might be happening as a result:

  • You’re hurting others – Sarcasm can be hurtful, especially when targeted at a specific person. By couching the comments in humor, it makes it harder to address since the person often claims to have been “just joking.” 
  • You’re avoiding the conflict – Conflict is often at the root of sarcasm, which tends to be a destructive response used to avoid the real problem.
  • You’re showing your hostility – While you might see the sarcasm as a way of hiding your feelings, most people can easily see through the thinly-veiled attempt.
  • You can’t be trusted – Sarcasm creates two trust challenges. First, it is easy for you to miscommunicate with sarcasm since not everyone “gets it.” Second, your colleagues might recognize that they’re the target when they’re not around.

Is that sarcastic remark worth the impact on the way people perceive you? It might feel good at the moment, but the colleagues passing you by will get the last laugh.