Sarcasm was famously described by Oscar Wilde as the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence.
While the intention behind sarcasm might often be lighthearted, its effects can be more severe, especially if you’re in a position of authority over the recipient.
In MLP 089, we welcome back Lyle Benson, an Associate Professor from Macewan who visited the podcast in episodes MLP 082 and MLP 097. He is here to explain to us why sarcasm is more hurtful than most of us realize and why we should strive to cut it out our discussions.
Lyle Benson is an Associate Professor in the Bachelor of Commerce Program Department of Organizational Behaviour, Human Resources and Management at MacEwan University.
Dr. Benson’s research interests focus on holistic leadership development. These include undergraduate development leadership skills, team building skills, and negotiating skills. He is also interested in undergraduate self-confidence development.
You Can get in touch with Lyle at email@example.com
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00:00 – Show Opening
Are you a professional who wants to become a more effective leader? Then get ready for daily tips from the coach with the experience and inspiration to help you succeed in any leadership situation. You are listening to the Meeting Leadership Podcast with Gordon Sheppard.
00:27 – Podcast content starts here!
Gordon Sheppard: Welcome to another episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast. My name is Gordon Sheppard and I want to say honestly, thanks for being here. Thanks for coming to the Meeting Leadership Podcast because you understand that in order to have a great meeting, you have to be a great leader. And if you want to be a great leader, you have to know how to run a great meeting. This is the place where you can pick up a skill, a tip, a strategy to do just that. Thank you so much for trusting it.
If you are like me, you really appreciate some good back and forth, good old biting sarcasm. I mean, it happens with me and my family. I know that there’s TV shows that I watch where I see it happen and it makes me laugh. But after listening to today’s show, as a leader, you’re going to get a very different perspective on it because today we’re going to talk about why sarcasm is hurting your team and what leaders can do about it.
Thankfully, to help us explore this, we’re bringing back Lyle Benson. Now, Lyle is a professor at MacEwan University. He was a consultant before that and for many decades now he’s been training young leaders to go out into the world with a different perspective, the kind of perspective that builds people up, the kind of perspective that really helps people to lead teams effectively. And with that in mind, here’s the insightful interview with Lyle Benson. Lyle, welcome back to the show. It’s great to have you here.
Lyle Benson: Well, it’s great to be back Gordon. Thank you very much for having me.
Gordon Sheppard: We really enjoyed having you on episode 82, and again I’m going to say it’s the tone of the episode along with the information that you conveyed that really leaders should really pay attention to and I hope they go back and get that and I’ll leave some information in the show notes for it as well. But for the people that are meeting you for the first time, Lyle, what do you want people to know?
Lyle Benson: Well, I work at MacEwan University. I’ve been here for 30 years. But I was also a business consultant for about 20, 25 years as well too. I’ve done a lot of work on leadership and helping teams and organizations.
02:20 – Sarcasm destroys self-esteem and self-confidence
Gordon Sheppard: Well, I know from the first episode that we did, the value is super high. It’s going to be high again. The thing that we talked about before this episode was introducing the concept of why sarcasm is hurting your team and what leaders can do about it. Why is this such a passion for you?
Lyle Benson: Well, it’s such a passion for me because sarcasm is the accepted form of humor in our society, but what it really does is it destroys people’s self-esteem and self-confidence. I’ll give you some examples. For example, we have to go back and take the history. It’s from the word sarkasmós, and it means tearing flesh or sometimes ripping flesh from the bone. It’s not irony, but sarcasm is a bitey verbal remark that is intentional. People intentionally mean to hurt somebody, and some people say that it’s a verbal aggression or verbal bullying. But the real problem is, it’s accepted in our society and that is the danger. We’re destroying people’s self-esteem and self-confidence and we don’t even realize that we are.
Gordon Sheppard: This really resonates for me because I can tell you as a dad of young kids, I remember the moment when I sarcastically said something very, very sarcastic to my 10-year-old son, and because I had in my family grown up with the sarcasm and kind of had it as an accepted thing. When I said it, he wasn’t in the groove of that at that point. He didn’t understand where I was coming from and it was a big learning moment for me about the power as a parent being in that leadership role about how damaging sarcasm can be in the wrong time.
Lyle Benson: Oh yeah. It’s used in families. I mean, teachers use it in the classroom to control their students. It’s used in locker rooms between watch teams. It’s on television, sitcoms, it’s everywhere. And yet we don’t really, really, really look at, is it helping our relationship? Is it helping our team or is it hurting us? I have people think about this when I work with them. And that is, if you are hanging around people that are sarcastic, you become sarcastic unless you want to not be sarcastic and then try to influence them.
Of all the things I’ve taught, hundreds of different topics to thousands of different people over the years, this is a topic that people are most reluctant to try. They’re most reluctant to work with this concept or idea. And here’s the reason why. They know they’re sarcastic and the awareness that maybe their sarcasm has actually been damaging their relationship and hurting people, even though they may not have intended it.
And so, it’s the most pushback I get where people don’t want to try this or they say, “Oh, I can’t do this. I’m sarcastic all the time.” But I tell people, “If you are sarcastic and you stop being sarcastic, this is what’s going to happen. People are going to say to you, ‘Are you not feeling well? Are you okay? If something upset? Is something bothering you?'” Because right away they notice a change in your behavior, and we have to go back to this.
You can’t control other people’s behavior. The only behavior you can control is yourself. If you stop being sarcastic, people notice it right away.Then if you’re not sarcastic, what do you say to people? Now I have to start focusing on the positive, which we did in our first step. That’s what I’m building people up. You have to change it with something like this. That’s the reason why my goal is to eradicate sarcasm. And again, if you want to see a change in behavior and if you want to see how sarcasm, or rather not being sarcastic has a positive impact, try it.
03:58 – Challenging yourself to not be sarcastic for a day
Lyle Benson: I challenge people. If you’re sarcastic, try not to be sarcastic for one day. It’s impossible for you to do that. But every time you are sarcastic, say, “Okay, I’m going to reset. I’m going to go back to not being sarcastic. Because when I started doing this session 30 years ago, I’d ask people, “How many sarcastic comments do you get a day?” Not that you give, but that you get. I thought two or three. People that talked to me 10, 20, 30, 40 a day.
Now, that is not a healthy thing to have happen to people because in our society, young people actually, their self-esteem goes down between kindergarten and grade 12 and I think a lot of it has to do with sarcasm. Don’t believe me, go and not be sarcastic and build people up.
Gordon Sheppard: This is a remarkable insight, especially when it comes from someone who says they’ve been teaching it for 30 years. It’s counterintuitive because the pop culture is, again, soaked with sarcasm. Again, I can speak from my own experience being brought up and yet when you mention just that simple idea of your students reflecting back to you and saying, “I’m getting this like 15, 20 times a day,” then in a workplace setting, in a nonprofit setting, from a leadership perspective, if you’re aware that that is happening, you can only realize then that people are putting up their armor. That’s the only way to get through a day like that when you’re getting that much sarcasm sent towards you and overall for sure: productivity, profitability, whatever the outcomes you’re looking for, they’re not achievable.
06:40 – Sarcasm puts people on the defensive
Lyle Benson: Well, they go down because if you’re working with a group of people that are sarcastic towards you, you’re defending yourself. You’re starting to think of sarcastic things you can say back to that person rather than doing your job, rather than focusing on what’s important, rather than helping people; and it can be very, very detrimental to organizations. Absolutely.
Now, the opposite happens then is that when you’re not being sarcastic, you then become the role model. Now, there’s leaders in the organization, executive managers and supervisors, but everybody can choose not to be sarcastic at work, with family, with friends. If you’ll choose not to be sarcastic, you will see immediate things happening within the people that you’re working with. They will notice it.
I’ve had so many students come up afterwards when they do this activity and they try it for a weekend and some of them say, “You know what, Lyle? I didn’t know that I was hurting people.” I talked with my colleague or I talked with my friend or I talked to my family member and they said, “Thank you for not being sarcastic,” because you may think it’s funny or humorous, but the person who’s receiving the sarcasm, they’re not smiling, they’re not laughing. It’s really hurtful.
Gordon Sheppard: I wish we had instant statistics on the impact that you’ve had by dropping that pebble in the pond alone. When you hear this, that you’ve influenced again these, I’m going to say hundreds and thousands of students in this way, and then they’ve gone out and eradicated maybe a little bit more sarcasm overall, that actually lifts everybody up.
08:33 – We can only control our own behavior
Lyle Benson: Oh, absolutely. One of the things that happens, this would be one of the toughest things that people do, because I’m asking your audience, change your behavior. And when you change your behavior, you change the world because you can only start with yourself. Don’t be sarcastic and it will have a ripple effect. Like you throw a pebble into the pond and the waters go out. You may not know the ripple effect, but it will come back.
Gordon Sheppard: Lyle, this is outstanding. For any leader that’s taken this in, I know they’re going to really have to pay attention. You don’t want to hurt people. Sarcasm is a choice. You can change your behavior. This gives people, I think, a lot of hope in terms of dealing with this really daily issue that we’ve got to deal with. It gets the armor up. I reallymailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
09:35 – Get in touch with Lyle Benson – email@example.com
Lyle Benson: They can get in touch with me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gordon Sheppard: Lyle, it was great to have you on the show again. Thank you so much.
Lyle Benson: Okay. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it. Bye now.
09:54 – Main takeaways: Sarcasm is a choice
Gordon Sheppard: Well, I think you would agree there are so many wonderful takeaways from that interview. The big one for me is that sarcasm is a choice. So as a leader, if you want people to keep their armor up, then keep being sarcastic. But if you really want to build them up and have them kind of drop their defenses, then choose not to be. Like Lyle says, don’t take his word for it. Just try it for a day, try it for a week and see if it makes a difference.
10:22 – MLP 082 – Why Leaders Need To Learn How To Build People Up with Lyle Benson – https://meetingleadershipinc.com/82
Gordon Sheppard: If you’re like me and you just can’t get enough of listening to Lyle Benson’s great wisdom, then check out episode 82 on the Meeting Leadership Podcast. It’s called, why leaders need to learn how to build people up. You can get that by going to meetingleadershipinc.com/82.
10:40 – MLP 097 – Inspiring Stories With Lyle Benson – https://meetingleadershipinc.com/97
We’re also lucky enough to have Lyle back in episode 97, and there he’s going to share an inspiring story, something that inspires him and give us some more great tips about what to do as leaders. You can get that episode by going to meetingleadershipinc.com/97.
10:59 – Meeting Leadership Academy – https://meetingleadershipinc.com/academy
Gordon Sheppard: I also want to let you know that this episode of the Meeting Leadership Podcast is brought to you by the Meeting Leadership Academy. If you want great live training options and online training options so you can build your leadership skills and learn how to run outstanding meetings, then visit meetingleadershipinc
11:24 – Podcast Outro
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