Monday, November 13, 2006

Exclamation... without the mark.

The conversation was free flowing with sharing, collaboration and laughter with the exception of one corner where there came a constant jab. We had anticipated its arrival from the moment the perpetrator stepped in the ring. Nervous and insecure as hell, it was all they could do to join right in and make that ‘lasting impression’, which had little impact beyond annoyance. As quickly as they injected themselves into the conversation, they retreated on their own accord leaving many of us pondering their point and purpose. Increasingly, modes of communication have swung from the empathetic to the selfish, the interesting to the predictable and from the enjoyable to the frustrating through the medium of sarcasm.

Sarcasm is loosely defined as ‘a form of wit intended to make its victim the butt of contempt or ridicule’(1) and is used predominantly in response to a question, statement or sentiment in conversation. However, sarcasm is also being inserted into the front end of interactions, seemingly in an attempt beat others to the punch by poking fun at our self before they get the chance. In either scenario, sarcasm is an inappropriate and unnecessary tool in our daily interactions.

Could it be that we are becoming less skilled listeners? Has the pressure to ‘outdo’ become that pervasive, or do we simply lack the confidence to express ourselves without making fun of ourselves, or others? All three suggestions probably hold some merit, but none has more truth than the last. Lack of confidence.

By using sarcasm, we are exposing the fact we are low in confidence before its determined by others. Only then can we retreat into our safe haven on our own volition and not worry about making mistakes. We have all heard the phrase ‘I was just joking’ after a line or sentiment of sarcasm that has gone too far. Well, clinically speaking, everything that passes through the mouth, has to originate in the mind so what we really meant to say was “I just said something really silly and I am sorry”. Lets explore five easy ways to stifle sarcasm before it makes its way into our conversations.

1. Think before you speak. What impact does your response have on others? Is it positive or negative? Remember, if you don’t have anything positive to say, don’t say anything.
2. Speak when you have something to say, rather than to say something. Is there legitimate opportunity to contribute or are you forcing your thoughts in?
3. Express more – impress less. Chances are if people don’t enjoy you for who you are, they will not enjoy you for who you aren’t.
4. Don’t bring sarcasm onto yourself. You will distance yourself from people who see self- confidence as a strength and make yourself an easy host for others with low self confidence.
5. Address sarcasm appropriately. If the option of calling people on their behavior is not comfortable, there is always option of walking away.

Keeping sarcasm at arms length, be it towards your self or others, will lead to healthier and meaningful interactions. In an era where interactions have been lessened by many contributing factors, it is imperative that we take as much from each of them as we can.

(1) Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth EditionCopyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company

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