Sarcasm can make you and your co-workers more creative

Sarcasm often has a bad rap.

It is derived from the Greek verb, sarkazein, that means ‘to tear flesh like a dog’ and might be seen as hostility in the guise of humour.

However, it can offer some benefits as well.

As per a new study by Francesca Gino (Harvard Business School), Adam Galinsky (Columbia Business School) and Li Huang (INSEAD), sarcasm can boost creativity.

The researchers had volunteers engage in a variety of neutral, sarcastic, and sincere interactions. After the subjects participated, they were then asked to handle creative tasks.

The results: sarcasm provides an excellent mental workout for the brain (pre) creative activity.

Francesca Gino, had this to say in the Harvard Gazette afterward: “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. This is a process that activates and is facilitated by abstraction, which in turn promotes creative thinking.”

“Not only did we demonstrate the causal effect of expressing sarcasm on creativity and explore the relational cost sarcasm expressers and recipients have to endure, we also demonstrated, for the first time, the cognitive benefit sarcasm recipients could reap.”

Adam Galinsky, had this to add about the results of the study: “Those in the sarcasm conditions subsequently performed better on creativity tasks than those in the sincere condition or the neutral condition. This suggests that sarcasm has the potential to catalyze creativity in everyone.”

“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.”

However, the researchers stressed in their findings that overdoing it on the sarcastic front is not a good idea.

Never throw out a sarcastic comment every time the mood strikes you, but keep your sarcastic charm reserved for only the most appropriate and ideal moments. After all, you don’t want to burn bridges by becoming known as the co-worker who can never be taken seriously.

To summarise the findings:

  • Sarcasm can promote creativity through abstract thinking in both the expresser and the receiver.
  • However, it is best used between people who have a good relationship. Otherwise it may give rise to conflict more than creativity.
  • Don’t overdo it.

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