I’m a smart-aleck. If you asked my mom, she’d likely tell you I’ve been that way ever since I was able to put together a complete sentence. Most of the time, it isn’t too much of an issue. However, there have been times when my mouth has gotten me into a pile of trouble. A couple of examples come immediately to mind.
A few years ago, I was part of a work group that reviewed projects and helped decide how to prioritize them against each other and the work already in progress. There were always way too many projects and far too few resources, and the meetings were often stressful.
On one occasion, we had been discussing a particularly troublesome project. It came to us as a last minute emergency, it required a tremendous amount of work, and the timeline was very short. It was a train wreck waiting to happen. Nobody wanted this project and we were all doing our best to not be volunteered. At one point the conversation became heated and out popped “Evil Scott”. I started making snide comments to the effect that an emergency on the proponent’s part shouldn’t necessarily mean an emergency on our part. I was on-fire. The mood changed and people started adding their comments, too. But I killed any good feelings when I said, “Hey, why don’t we assign this to Debbie. She hasn’t got any projects. She’s got plenty of time!”
Debbie turned bright red. Everyone noticed and the room went silent.
After an awkward pause, I mumbled, “Hey, I was only kidding.” The meeting broke up shortly after that, and Debbie and I didn’t speak more than a sentence or two over the next several days.
Let me back up here a second. Debbie was the secretary of the work group. She was deeply involved in just about every project and was responsible for providing all of the background and documentation for all the incoming projects so we could make the best decisions possible. In exchange for all her work before the meetings, it was agreed she wouldn’t be assigned specific projects. We all knew this. What I didn’t know is that she had been feeling guilty about the project load the rest of us were being assigned. She had commented to her supervisor that she wished she could help the rest of us out. The comment I made, intending to be funny, touched a sore spot for Debbie. To her, it wasn’t funny at all.
The other instance happened at around the same time. I was interviewing for a position I really wanted. I was perfect for this position. The job description and my resume might have been written by the same person. In addition, the interview was being conducted by people I knew, so I let my guard down—perhaps a little too much.
At one point I was asked, “What would you do if you were placed in a position where there were multiple projects needing to be completed, using the same resources, at the same time, and all of the projects were deemed critical to the organization?”
I quickly replied, “I’d quit.” Then I laughed. I thought it was quite funny. After a couple of guffaws, I noticed I was the only one laughing. Everyone else was looking at at me as if I had suddenly grown a second head. I tried to recover by saying, “Just kidding. Actually, that situation happens quite frequently, and the last time it did…” Unfortunately, the damage was already done. The end result was that I did not get the position. When I asked for feedback, I was told some of my jokes led the interview panel to believe I wasn’t taking the position seriously.
So here’s the thing. I strongly believe appropriate humor can be used to lighten a tense situation. I have done so successfully on many occasions. However, sometimes sarcasm is used in an attempt to be funny and sarcasm can be very dangerous. Sarcasm is often used to conceal frustration, anger, or fear. If you are feeling any of these emotions, take a deep breath and be very careful about trying to be funny. If you get a reputation for being flip or sarcastic, you may be laughing at the expense of your next job.Image Credit: http://weird-websites.info/Funny-Faces/funny-faces-by-silly-little-girls-games-weird-face-pics.htm