Leaders Avoid Sarcasm During Conflict

Sarcasm has no place in effective leadership.

That’s not the most popular thing I’ve said, but it needs to be said frequently.

It’s personally frustrating, because sarcasm has been a big part of my sense of humor most of my life. But it’s gotten me into trouble at least as often as it’s gotten me laughs.

People don’t need their leaders to keep them guessing; they need clarity, and sarcasm clouds it.

Here’s another reason to avoid it: if sarcasm is part of the culture, then when we get stressed, it’s easy to slip it into conflict situations.

In conflict, sarcasm is the harsh extension of passive-aggression. It allows us to take a camouflaged shot at someone or express our hostility without revealing our real motivations.

We may not be committed enough to yell, but still want to take them down a notch. Another reason sarcasm is tempting in the midst of conflict is the ability to claim, “I’m just joking… come on, lighten up.”

“Just kidding!” does not give us immunity after subtly attacking or demeaning someone.

What to do?

Ask yourself, “If jokes are half-truths, what truth am I unwilling to express?”

Then, be specific and calmly say what you mean. This builds trust instead of tearing it down.

Alan Feirer Group DynamicThanks for reading,

Alan Feirer




This is the 15th post in a series discussing what not to do during conflict situations. Effective leaders avoid portraying these 18 behaviors during conflict. Follow along as we explore the negative impact of these behaviors, and what to do instead.
Post 1: Leaders Avoid Arguing During Conflict
Post 2: Leaders Avoid Belittling During Conflict
Post 3: Leaders Avoid Caving In During Conflict
Post 4: Leaders Avoid Being Defensive During Conflict
Post 5: Leaders Avoid Dismissing Others’ Opinions During Conflict
Post 6: Leaders Avoid Drama During Conflict
Post 7: Leaders Avoid Exaggerating During Conflict
Post 8: Leaders Avoid Exclusion During Conflict
Post 9: Leaders Avoid Finger-Pointing During Conflict
Post 10: Leaders Avoid Gossiping During Conflict
Post 11: Leaders Avoid Hyper-Criticism During Conflict
Post 12: Leaders Avoid Overpowering During Conflict
Post 13: Leaders Avoid Passive-Aggressiveness During Conflict
Post 14: Leaders Avoid Seeking Revenge During Conflict

8 thoughts on “Leaders Avoid Sarcasm During Conflict

    • Thanks! I told people out loud that I was giving up sarcasm. I invited them to challenge me if they caught me in the act. I started that process in about 2005. The last time a friend of mine said “Hey – that was sarcastic – I thought you gave that up” was LAST WEEK. Steve won’t let anything slide.

  1. Love this entire series! I have several notes to myself on my computer that I reflect on every day, the main ones being “What am I afraid will happen if I am direct?” and “What is the actual reason my emotions are so intense right now?” Your posts are concise, and I appreciate the immediate applicability to my personal and professional life. Thanks for being a fantastic resource!

  2. Thanks Al! I have been preaching this for years in the context of counseling. It is such a relationship destroyer for it allows passive aggression to win!

Leave a Comment