Sarcasm in writing. Don’t do it

Tom McCallum
sarcastic text Sarcasm
sarcastic text Sarcasm

Leadership is about people and so about communication, so take this one as a blunt and strongly word tip for us all.

Don’t be sarcastic in writing. Just don’t. Please. Ever.

Sarcasm in writing runs a high risk of being misinterpreted

I wrote about the “7%-38%-55% Rule” recently, recommending in that post to balance online communication (particularly that which only uses writing, such as email or texts) with offline communication, as when our communication is misaligned, only 7% of what we actually communicate comes from our words.

Sarcasm as humour

As a Scot, we are well known for being sarcastic as a form of humour, yet it can easily miscommunicate, even in person.

To illustrate, a classic Scottish comedy sketch on “sarcasmaholics anonymous”:

Sarcasm across cultures

Sarcasm can be easy to misread even in person (and far more dangerous in writing), so now consider how this can be an even bigger issue across cultures.

As an example, I’ve worked for many years in the USA and found that many Americans are unable to pick up sarcasm as humour, they are simply too literal, a little like Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, who says “nothing goes over my head”.

When is it ok?

Oscar Wilde, famous witticist, said:

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence.”

So as a Scot (and again, we are naturally sarcastic) who has worked in many countries and always focussed on picking up cultural nuances, I avoid sarcasm almost entirely, except with very close friends and family.

I also never use it to be unkind, only creatively humorous, and, as normally recognised (particularly in Scotland), really smart sarcasm is reserved for those we truly care about.

In short, only be sarcastic with people where there is a high degree of trust.

For more on this, and how it can indeed boost creativity, see “The Surprising Benefits of Sarcasm” from Scientific American.

Oh, and to repeat myself, even in a high trust environment I’d recommend you still reserve any and all use of sarcasm for when you are in person, never in writing.


Originally published at Tom McCallum.

Tom McCallum

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