Can sarcasm boost workplace creativity?

3 Aug

I’ve always been taught that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. But it appears that sarcasm may have a higher level use than originally thought, as bosses using sarcasm in the workplace can apparently boost their employees’ creativity.

Research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, as flagged up in the BPS Occupational Digest, suggests that staff will apply themselves with focus when subjected to anger – but are more capable of thinking laterally when a harsh comment is laced with humour and delivered with sarcasm.

Pure anger makes people go into fire-fighting mode, and they get on with the task in hand as a means of finding some security, says the study. This can prevent them coming up with creative solutions as they have battened down their hatches, hiding from whatever verbal blows the manager may seek to inflict.

However, because sarcastic comments sometimes need to be interpreted – as they can often deliver high praise to substandard work, for example – staff need to work out what is meant, and therefore they are already triggering their creative thoughts.

I can’t say I would support sarcasm as a means of getting staff to work smarter, as I think there can be a line between funny, clever sarcasm and bullying sarcasm (which will be in the ear of the beholder, and real meaning may be misinterpreted). I’m not a fan of out-and-out anger, either. But I guess that lightening the message with a touch of humour, so that no-one feels humiliated, could be a welcome addition to the workplace.

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