Sarcasm is deeply embedded in my DNA—so much so, I don’t even realize it’s happening. For example, when I found out my favorite Caesar salad dressing was discontinued, I didn’t just sigh disappointingly and pick a new one (you know, since that would be normal). Nope, I glared at the shitty dressings I had to choose from with disdain, and said, “Because who wouldn’t want to switch to a cheap, watered down dressing that turns your salad into paste and lights your insides on fire?”
Some people say sarcasm is nothing more than a lame attempt at masking your insecurities. Some say it’s a passive-aggressive way to deal with your anger. Some say it’s just plain obnoxious. And while I’m sure there are plenty of instances where sarcastics such as myself need to simmer down and not be so… well, us, one place we should let our freak flag fly is on the job, say researchers.
A recent study from Columbia Business School, Harvard University, and the European business school INSEAD revealed that being sarcastic may give you and your co-workers a boost in creativity. (So basically, you’re welcome.)
“To create or decode sarcasm, both the expressers and recipients of sarcasm need to overcome the contradiction (i.e., psychological distance) between the literal and actual meanings of the sarcastic expressions,” study author Francesca Gino told the Harvard Gazette in an email. “This is a process that activates and is facilitated by abstraction, which in turn promotes creative thinking.”
In one experiment, participants were divided into three groups: In the first, participants either gave or received sarcastic remarks, in the second, they received sincere remarks, and the third was a control group with neutral chit-chat. Afterward, participants were asked to link like words together in a Remote Association Task, which is one of the most widely-used creativity tasks used in research settings.
In another experiment, participants were asked to recall memories as they related to sarcasm or sincerity, and were then asked to complete the Duncker Candle Problem, where they had to figure out how to attach a candle to the wall using only a candle, matches, and a box of tacks. In every experiment, scientists found that those who were faced with sarcasm before the tasks were more creative—and this remained true whether they were speaking or being spoken to sarcastically.
That said, researchers also found that sarcasm created conflict between certain study participants—but once a baseline of trust was established between parties, sarcasm was no longer an issue.
“While most previous research seems to suggest that sarcasm is detrimental to effective communication because it is perceived to be more contemptuous than sincerity, we found that, unlike sarcasm between parties who distrust each other, sarcasm between individuals who share a trusting relationship does not generate more contempt than sincerity,” study author Adam Galinsky told the Harvard Gazette in an email.
So while you might find the sarcastic people you work with to be obnoxious with a side of snark, they could be your ticket to a promotion. Just saying.