Sarcasm has a bad reputation. The dry, scathing form of wit is often criticised as a cheap and easy way to get a laugh. Perhaps it’s the fact that sarcasm requires a victim in order to be effective. The joke always has to land on someone, which can be construed as mean-spirited. However, a few studies have shown that people capable of being snarky are actually also smarter. After all, wasn’t it Oscar Wilde who quipped that “sarcasm is the lowest form of humour, but the highest form of intelligence”? It turns out that he might’ve been right and sarcastic people could actually achieve more success in life. Shocker.
Joking outside of the box
According to a study done by researchers from Harvard, Columbia and Insead, sarcasm forces you to think abstractly. The mental effort it takes to connect the literal and implied layers of a sarcastic expression unlocks the creative centres of the brain, promoting out-of-the-box thinking. Participants in the study were told to have either a sarcastic, neutral or sincere conversation with a colleague and were later asked to do creative tasks. And surely enough, those who had just been deliberately snide and cutting towards each other performed the creative tasks better. This flies in the face of decades of professional stigma against sarcasm. We’ve always been instructed to keep our interactions earnest in the workplace, but what if sincerity is leaving our creativity dormant?
Contempt breeds familiarity
You’re only ever sarcastic towards two people: those closest to you and those you can’t stand. Naturally, if you’re sarcastic towards someone you don’t like, it will only deepen the tension and conflict between the two of you. But consider the opposite: if you’re sarcastic towards someone familiar to you – a best friend, a sibling, or a close colleague – the bond between you is strengthened. At least, that’s what neurophysiologist from the University of California, Dr Katherine Rankin, thinks. But what does she know, right?
It all boils down to the concept of an inside joke and the bonding experience it brings with it. If you tell a sarcastic joke at work and it goes over everyone’s head except for one colleague, that one colleague is immediately your closest friend. In that moment, you both feel validated that you’re on the same team, and trust and cooperation is instantly created between you because of a thinly-veiled jab that no one else got.
If you can make them laugh, you can make them do anything
That’s a deliberate misquote of Marilyn Monroe. It’s true, though, that funny people are more attractive – romantically, platonically and, yes, even professionally. In fact, a healthy sense of humour is a good indication of a person’s intellect. Funny people also generally have a better way with words, better people skills and have a way of seeing the more unconventional sides of a situation. Doesn’t that sound like the ideal hire? Sarcasm isn’t something everyone is immediately good at. To a certain extent you either have it or you don’t. And those that do have it, and know exactly when to use it, will probably inherit the earth.
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