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Sarcasm and Humor in Business

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Sarcasm and Humor in Business

Sarcasm and humor are two distinctly different tools people frequently attempt to use to add levity.


Sarcasm, defined in simple terms as disguising negative commentary with a positive tone, is one of the most common forms of humor in conversation. And like applying other types of humor to business settings, practicing sarcasm in meetings – in person, by phone, online or some combination of all three – can be like walking a tight rope.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal calls sarcasm a “dangerous game.” Sarcasm is often defined as “harsh or bitter derision or irony.” Search for some synonyms for sarcasm and discover “contempt,” “mockery,” and “scorn” are among the most common.


The definition of humor is the quality of being amusing or comic, especially as expressed in literature or speech.

While sarcasm is clever, and sometimes even hilarious, it can also be a double-edged sword for the business professional who’s ready to be taken seriously when it comes to starting a business or managing a project.

On the other hand, humor in business can be a remarkable gift. Not only does witty humor make a person come across as… well, clever, but studies have actually proven that the typical deadpan executive, the gifted person who can make someone who seems uptight start to snicker, is nearly always a professional win.

A Robert Half International survey, for example, found that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement. In comparison, 84% feel that people with a good sense of humor do a better job.

The skilled use of humor often gets the point across better, lightens the mood, and, in many respects, is better than therapy for brightening the workplace and energizing the workers.

Do’s and Don’ts of Sarcasm and Humor

  • Before you add snark to a conversation, think carefully: “Do you know the person at all? Do you have a good understanding of the people you are talking to’s sensitivities?
  • Be true to yourself. Some people are just not funny. If you cannot pull off the timing and delivery of a good joke, don’t try.
  • Less is more. You want to leave them wanting more; don’t wear out your welcome.
  • Avoid anything controversial, especially with someone you don’t know — it can be distracting, and you could easily offend someone.
  • Meeting leaders should avoid sarcasm. One critical aspect of leading a successful meeting is demonstrating respect for each attendee’s commitment to the business at hand. A sarcastic jest could send the opposite message to someone feeling stressed by work or pressed for time.
  • Avoid sarcastic remarks in mixed company. No matter the diversity in a group – age, gender, region, ethnicity, etc. – the likelihood that everyone around the table laughs at the same jokes is low.
  • Clumsy humor is a risk. What are you going to do when the joke falls like a clunker or turns funny for the wrong reasons?

The Bible

Believe it or not, the Bible is full of humorous tales.

A glimpse of Jesus’ sense of humor can be enjoyed in the stories surrounding his disciples James and John. Rebuffed by the Samaritans, they addressed Jesus: “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” (Luke 9:53–54).

Although Jesus turned down this request and rebuked James and John, nonetheless, he nicknamed this duo “the sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17).

No matter how stressful or eventful our lives are, we need lighter moments and experiences as much as, or even more than, the drama or angst life throws at us. Even Jesus indulges in a variety of humorous interactions, as do his closest and most dedicated followers.

As business leaders and entrepreneurs, we should do the same—with also the same level of restraint as Jesus.