For a long time I’ve been told I have a quirky sense of humor, a dry wit and lover of puns.
Knowing how this (sometimes) got me in to trouble in school, I have tried to behave while working. Generally I succeed. But there have been times when keeping quite would have been the much better way to go. Heck, sometimes it’s just the tone of voice that can get me in trouble. (Really, I didn’t think I used that tone?!) Pictures like this seriously represent my thought processes.
Sarcasm and work walk a very fine line. It’s enough to make tightrope walkers concerned.
My sarcasm has gotten me in trouble a few times. Even the things I didn’t think were sarcastic. Boy, when people take things the wrong way – things go south in a hurry! But when it works, sarcasm can be a handy tool to get things done/help needed. I bet you’re wondering what I mean by that one. Well, let me give you a couple examples of sarcasm going well:
- Working for a busy doctor and I was the only medical assistant. One Saturday, when he was ordering tests on 90% of the patients he overheard my comment to the office staff “do me a favor trip him when he goes by – maybe he’ll slow down.” A few minutes later he was drinking coffee in my small lab. He said “you know, you are in charge.” My witty retort? “Oh, yippee, when I’m pissed at myself I can tell me where to go” and went back to work. That Monday I had an assistant. By the end of the week, I started getting students working on an internship basis.
- In an office – as an administrative assistant. One day I was wearing a shorter skirt (not incredibly but perhaps a bit too short). The boss “dropped” his pencil and asked me to pick it up. He complained when I bent at the knees and stooped to pick it up. My comment was, “I guess I’ll have to wear pants so I can pick up pencils around here, my knees are on the bad side and don’t like to bend that much.” He was the owner/president. I overheard his VP tell him “yes she ruined your day and was sarcastic, but it could have been worse, she could have ruined you and the business.”
- A co-worker (slightly higher up the rung than me) likes to give people grief. Seems to enjoy it. I didn’t ever raise my voice, but that “tone” was there. Once he complained that I wouldn’t take anything he was dishing out, he was actually (slightly) upset when he asked me WHY. I simply told him, “I’ve come to realize that I don’t have to. I can get my work done, still make you look good and not feel the need to put up with your nonsense.” He actually thanked me for standing up to him.
What happens when sarcasm backfires? Well in the second example – I wasn’t employed there much longer. I was told my work wasn’t up to his standards. (hmm, I worked harder than the others…) Well, at least it wasn’t a job I missed. I knew I wasn’t ever going to wear short skirts and bend at the waist to pick things up for the guy. After that there were a series of other jobs (temp) where I was told that the reason they didn’t hire me for a permanent position; they didn’t approve of my sarcasm/tone I took with peers.
So, what do I do now? I “sit back” and observe the culture more. While I get a feel for the place/people I stay reserved and don’t say much. I truly am basically shy, it’s when I decide to “open up” and over compensate that I get into trouble.
For the record, I keep my sarcasm to my co-workers and some bosses/clients. NEVER used on customers. I will not make an employer look bad because they chose to hire/work with me and my wit.
NOTE: You will also find this article in my friend Nancy Becher’s newsletter: Small Biz Forward – due to be released soon!