There’s No Room For Sarcasm When Recognizing People

Sarcasm is also known as verbal irony, and humor often tempers it. It’s a type of speech that has a semantic interpretation opposite to its literal meaning. Too often it is used to say something opposite of what is true, intending to make someone look or feel foolish.

Whatever people say sarcastically should not be taken literally. However, that’s not saying people don’t take it the wrong way. As communication experts will tell you, many people have been on the receiving end of sarcastic comments and it can hurt. 

I attended a small award ceremony a while back where the emcee was trying to be funny and resorted to using sarcasm when making the presentations. Most people laugh out of awkwardness in dealing with such situations, and that is what I witnessed, especially after people had had a few drinks. But a few of us wise to such situations did not laugh and felt bad for each target of the attempted humor.

There is no positive benefit from using sarcasm. It may boost the ego of the person delivering sarcasm, but it always comes at the expense of hurting someone and putting others down.

Interestingly, the emcee asked me afterward what I thought of their presenting. When I described it as having sarcasm with its double meanings, the comment was, “Oh, they know I was just being funny.” Sometimes the line of defense you hear used by sarcastic people is that the victim of their sarcastic comments “just can’t take a joke” or perhaps “they have no sense of humor.”  

If everyone in the room did not perceive it as funny, then it wasn’t funny at all.

When giving recognition to someone privately or on the stage at a formal awards event, intend to recognize the person, honor them, and celebrate their accomplishments. It’s always about making them feel better than when they first came into the room and met with you. Period.

It’s really sad when people in positional power put people in uncomfortable positions by shaming them in front of others. The sarcastic person thinks they are earning a few laughs, but the comments after the fact will reveal a negative perception of the person, especially if they are a leader.

The other outcome that sarcastic people create is setting the example that permits caustic comments by others and breeds negativity in the workplace. Recognition thrives only in a positive environment where there is real trust and respect. Sarcasm never creates such a foundation.

Some quick pointers: 

  • Figure out why and resolve your use of sarcasm. If you use sarcasm in your attempt at humor during recognition presentations, you might ask yourself why you are doing so. Are you trying to make yourself look good? Have you considered the negative impact you are having on people? Is it really worth being sarcastic? As Bernard Meltzer once said, “Before you speak, ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.”
  • Become a positive encourager of others. In your personal and on-stage recognition presentations, your role is to inspire, uplift, and encourage people to continue to perform excellently. Remember, when people feel positively about themselves, it influences their feelings in the rest of their work. 
  • Get help from others if you need to. Watch if you use sarcasm as it might be a sign of insecurity and masking of other underlying issues you have not resolved. It might merit some self-reflection or some counseling with your employee assistance plan counselors to help you see its roots. Also, make time to apologize to anyone who may have been the brunt of your sarcastic humor in the past.
  • Make fun of yourself. If you’re going to use any type of humor in your presentations, then use self-effacing humor. Making fun of yourself helps people see your human side and endears yourself to the audience. 

Recognition Reflection: Do you need to hold yourself or others accountable for removing sarcasm from recognition expressions?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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