Recently, I received an inquiry from a manager of a mid-size company that was having difficulty with an employee who displayed a very sarcastic attitude.
“How can I effectively manage an engaged and bright subordinate who uses sarcasm in team meetings and other workplace conversations? It is difficult for me to point out to him the damage his "witty" remarks do to his peers. It also encourages others to imitate such behavior. I want to solve this issue and move on with other more pressing tasks. Your help is appreciated”.
Sarcasm is a tool that people use to make a point, hide a flaw or somehow manipulate those around them. Used too often and for the wrong reasons, sarcasm can negatively affect the flow of a productive, harmonious workplace.
How you handle it depends largely on your relationship with the individual and your confidence in your current position.
The fastest way to address this is to sit your employee down and have a 'Dutch uncle' chat. Ask him why he uses sarcasm so much and if he is aware of the affects. Tell him you think highly of his work and his future with the company but he must gain control of his sarcastic comments or he risks his future. Saying this requires a healthy relationship and the confidence to be open and direct. Sarcastic people usually don't respect anything subtle.
If your relationship is not positioned for a ‘Dutch uncle’ chat but you do command leadership authority, tell him you have noticed some behavior about him you think he would want to know about so he can correct it. Tell him what behavior you have observed. Focus on the behavior and not him. Tell him what reactions you are being made aware of. Ask him why he believes this kind of behavior is proper or productive. Finish by letting him know that you support him as an employee but you must see effort from him to distinguish the sarcasm.
Finally, if you suspect that his behavior is a form of lashing out, try to find out what is troubling him. You may need to pull in someone from HR to deal with problems that are triggering his sarcastic outbursts.
Whatever you do, document it. If you have him create a plan to change his behavior, follow up until you are sure the problem has been addressed. If he recognizes the problem and the people he offends, support his change with appreciation. If he does not change or shows no sign of wanting to change, replace him. Don't dither on this. Caustic employees do more damage to the workplace because they are allowed to stay way too long.
If you are dealing with a difficult or aggravating workplace problem and you’d like some objective advice about how to effectively deal with it, contact me at ‘Ask Steve’
about the Author
After a stellar 29 year career in the consumer products manufacturing industry, Steve Smith converted his knowledge and experience into a successful business and executive coaching company. In 2008, he opened GrowthSource Coaching in Orange County, CA