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« 23. Keeping your cool with sarcasm: EQ skills 6-10 »

Written by Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute. Author of "How to develop emotional resilience and manage your emotions".

Sarcasm occurs in the workplace and some people find it funny, while others are hurt or upset by it and perceive it as a form of put-down. It can certainly be very cutting.

How can one respond to it with a high level of emotional intelligence?

Of utmost importance is the ability to be able to keep your cool so you don't get irritated, hurt or upset by sarcasm and can shrug it off.

Here are five key emotional intelligence skills you can apply to help you manage sarcasm so it washes over you like water off a duck's back.

This is the second article in a two-part series on emotionally intelligent ways to handle sarcasm. This one covers EQ skills, 6-10.

An earlier article covers "Keeping your cool with sarcasm EQ skills 1-5".

EQ skills 6: Ignore it

Emotional intelligence skills include a range of responses to sarcasm. One of them is to ignore it.

You always have the option to take it at face value and to avoid reading any intention into it.

Sarcasm, as with many other negative comments, only becomes a hurtful weapon if you pick the weapon up and stab yourself with it.

You might find in some situations the best response is to respond as if the comment was not sarcastic, or if it hasn't been said at all.

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EQ skills 7: If it's crossed the lines of acceptability, say so

If the sarcastic comment is offensive because it's sexual in nature, racial vilification or involving hatred then you can choose to stipulate your boundaries.

A brief statement such as, "That kind of comment is inappropriate in the workplace" may be all that you need to say.

Of course, you may not get a pleasant response back. Comments such as, "Isn't she a clever little lady, all up herself"; "Oh, Madam La Di Dah" or "And who made you in charge of what's said around here your Highness?", or worse, would always be possible. Be ready for such retorts. And let them plop on the floor and stay there. Do not pick them up.

Part of the range of skills covered under emotional intelligence is the ability to manage your own emotions, and to manage the emotions of others. However, this does not mean that you are a push-over and do not stand up for yourself. It is important that you put boundaries around inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, even if you feel uncomfortable doing so.

Sadly, many people you meet may not have high levels of emotional intelligence, so the responses you receive will not always be favourable, or polite. The corporate psychopath is alive and well, for a start.

EQ skills 8: Don't go over and over it

Sometimes people can make a sarcastic comment and it wounds another person. The sarcastic person then forgets all about it and continues with his or her day.

The wounded person meanwhile starts to go over and over it in his or her head. Each time he or she does this, the hurt increases.

Don't do this to yourself. Let it go.

This is often the best solution for all concerned. Carrying the hurt around and repeating it to yourself makes the hurt last longer than it needs to. This reflects a low level of emotional intelligence in this area. Sarcastic comments are not worth your losing sleep over.

EQ skills 9: Give a silly response

It is tempting to give a silly response to people's sarcasm and to meet it at the level it may deserve. Is this emotionally intelligent? In some cases yes, it can help you to keep your cool without inflaming the situation. It depends how you feel when you say it, and how you say it.

For example, I've had a number of sarcastic comments from my relatives about my eating habits. I am keen to stay healthy and therefore eat a healthy diet. And it's different from theirs.

In these circumstances what I eat and drink are constantly commented on. If I eat muesli for breakfast, for example, I get sarcastic comments about eating birdseed.

  • One possible silly response would be to start squawking like a bird,
  • or pretending to fly,
  • or to laugh and say, "Yes, I'm hoping to leave the nest soon".

All these are light-hearted silly responses that can help trivialise the sarcastic comments.

If you have high levels of emotional intelligence you will know whether you are truly light-hearted and managing your emotions well, or whether you are really bothered by the comments and wanting to get your own back. It is important to be able to differentiate between these different emotional responses.

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EQ skills 10: Agree

What? Agree with the sarcastic comment? Yes, sometimes this can take all the energy away from it so it doesn't go any further.

For example, I recently left a couple of items in someone's car. I realised I'd lost one item and called someone to determine if I'd left it in their car, and found it successfully.

Shortly after that, a second item of mine was found, by the same person. You can imagine the sarcastic comments this provoked, all about keeping an eye on my head so I don't lose it, or "Watch out she doesn't leave anything in your car".

It seemed the easiest response to these was, "Yes! I'll keep a look out in case I leave my head behind" or, "He's right I can leave anything behind". Ho hum!

Sarcasm can be completely overdone and completely boring, so choosing to pour cold water on it may help reduce it. We can but hope! I am no fan of sarcasm. It is certainly another option in your kit-bag of emotional intelligence skills.

How high is your emotional intelligence & emotional resilience?

There is so much that you can do to develop your emotional resilience and the E.I. Institute has a number of options to help you:

Worried that you don't have enough emotional resilience and that you need to develop your emotional intelligence more? Our unique, practical, 5-star emotional intelligence coaching package is available for you and includes the opportunity to have your emotional intelligence assessed. Boost your resilience now. Find out more here.