Sarcasm is when someone makes an observation that isn’t intended to be mistaken for truth in order to draw attention to a ridiculous situation. It’s often a rather aggressive verbal tool, though it can be used or disguised as humor. Sarcasm can be a way of mocking or teasing another person. Often, an indicator of sarcasm is a particular tone of voice which makes it difficult to call the person out for illogical thinking on this behavior.
Distinguish between playful and hurtful sarcasm.
Sometimes sarcasm is used to inject humor into a situation or dissipate tension. In other cases, sarcasm could be wielded as a verbal weapon. Knowing the difference is important, since you don’t want to overreact if the sarcastic person is just trying to be funny. In general, if the remark doesn’t single a person out, it’s possible it was intended to be humorous. But other times, people find something that could become a joke and say it right away without thinking, and could possibly hurt someone.
For example, someone might try to lighten the mood in a long line by saying, “Oh, I’m so happy to be standing in this ridiculously long line right now.” There’s nothing aggressive about that statement; the person probably just wants to get a few chuckles.
On the other hand, this statement could be perceived as rude and aggressive, depending on the tone with which it’s delivered, such as an insult: “Wow, I’m so lucky that you’re the person I’m standing next to in this ridiculously long line.”
Ignore the sarcastic remark.
The simplest way to deal with a sarcastic remark in the moment is to recognize it (nod, say “Okay”) as if the words were sincere. This is a way to move the conversation along without interruption, and allows you to remain confident and collected.
You can also ignore the sarcastic remark completely, pretending not to hear it.
If the speaker’s intention was to upset you, you won’t be rewarding him with your attention. The speaker is looking for a reaction, so don’t give any return (value) to the words.
Turn to talk to another person altogether. This will send the message that you’re unwilling to engage in additional conversation with the sarcastic person. They might enjoy your company, but they show it differently than you do, or you are used to.
Consider correcting it as a mistake.
Proceeding as if not understanding can deflect the speaker’s negative intent.
For example, if the person said, “What a surprise – you’re doing something nice!” you can respond by saying “My action wasn’t meant as niceness. John, I was simply helping out.”
By responding with apparent sincerity, you’ll make the mean comment look especially inane/inapt.
Tell the person how you feel about the remark.
Sometimes being frank can be the better response, particularly if the person is sarcastic on a regular basis. You don’t have to be angry or defensive. Just tell him that his comment was not funny/hurt you. That person most likely didn’t mean it seriously as you took it, even if it feels harsh.
Keep your comment simple and direct, without bringing up a list of remarks that might have hurt your feelings in the past.
If he tries to explain it wasn’t a big deal, don’t respond. This reaction to the sarcastic comment wasn’t an invitation to debate your feelings.
You can also find a time to talk to the sarcastic person when you’re both calm. Find a time and place where you do not have an audience, and you’re unlikely to be interrupted, then express your feelings. This may result in “arms length negotiation,” greater sincerity and understanding.
Responding to a sarcastic comment with intentional sarcasm doesn’t usually result in a happy ending. When you start to feel yourself getting vengeful, take a deep breath and try not to say anything. If possible, walk away from the situation.
If this is a workplace situation, responding in anger, with abrasiveness to fellow workers could mean loss of your job or other negative consequences.
Do whatever you can to prevent yourself from responding quickly. An option is to mentally count to 10 before responding. If you’re still upset after counting to 10, repeat the process.
Think about why you’re reacting.
If the sarcasm is really getting under your skin, there’s a good chance that there’s something going on inside of you. Is this a topic that you’re especially sensitive about? Are you struggling with poor self-esteem that the comment reminds you of? If that’s the case, it might not be the sarcasm that’s the problem.
Talking to a counselor or a friend about issues that routinely cause you to feel upset can be helpful in dealing with social teasing.
As you build your confidence and appreciate yourself more, you may notice an increased resilience in social situations.
Consider your options.
If the sarcastic person is someone that you’ll need to get used to, such as, your supervisor, mother-in-law, partner, etc. Try to respond to it in the best way you can. If the sarcasm comes from someone you’ll be unlikely to see often, then it might be easier to ignore their taunts.
If the sarcasm comes from someone you have to work with or see on a regular basis, talking to them about the affect their sarcasm has on you is often a better option,
Realize that the person may have their own reasons for wanting to see you react to his sarcasm.
Realize that you may just have a different sense of humor.
Males are far more likely than females to consider sarcasm as a form of lighthearted humor. If your feelings are hurt by sarcasm, consider whether or not the intentions were really unkind. Some people just use sarcasm as a habit. Most often they don’t think about how it effects others.
Think about other things the person has said or done and how they made you feel.
If the majority of actions were kind, it’s possible that the person just as a different sense of humor than you do. Their words may have come out different then they intended.
Recognize the roots of sarcasm.
Sarcasm can be a form of anger, or just a go-to on how to deal with life. Sometimes sarcastic people is resentful, angry or bitter about perceived slights he or she’s received, whether at home or in the workplace. These slights may have come from you, but they’re just as likely to have come from someplace else altogether. Because some of us handle trials in life by taking it head on, crying, pushing the problem away, etc. But deep down, most sarcastic people are afraid. They don’t know how to deal with life, so their go-to is sarcasm. That is how they cope.
The impulse behind sarcasm is sometimes to help the person using it, feel better. Maybe they just like to make people laugh, or they could be trying to hurt someone so that they can have more power.
It’s a dysfunctional communication that can injure others feelings, and does less to help the sarcastic person then what they want. It’s quite common.
Consider whether it’s a habitual response.
If a person lives in a social environment in which sarcasm is a common method of communicating anger, he or she might not even realize that he/she’s using it with others. Even if he/she is aware, it’s a hard habit to break.
If the person wants to try to learn better patterns of communication, talking to a counselor or therapist can be helpful.
Even if it’s a habitual response, there is a time and a place for sarcastic behavior, but sometimes people who use sarcasm doesn’t know the right time.
Listen for voice tone.
A sarcastic tone is easier to recognize when you know a person well, as it involves a subtle alteration in the person’s typical speaking voice. If the person wants to make sure his sarcasm is recognized, these qualities may be exaggerated. While a sarcastic tone doesn’t have qualities that are easily described, it is generally recognized by these qualities:
The speaker’s voice will be pitched lower than usual for his typical speaking voice.
The sarcastic words may be elongated, emphasized, or drawn out. For instance, “Yeah, it’s a GREAT day for a picnic.”
Sometimes people will mutter sarcastic comments slightly under their breath. And if they do, ignore it. If the person that is using sarcasm mutters something, it could mean they are aware that it might hurt someone’s feelings but it would bother them if they didn’t say it, so they simply mumbled it. Most of the time it isn’t something you should push further.
You may notice a slight sigh following the sarcastic remark.
Pay attention to facial expression.
Someone making a sarcastic comment will often convey their feelings through facial expressions that contradict his statement. For example, someone may grimace as they’re making a statement that would be positive, if intended truthfully. For example, if he/she scowls as he/she says what a fine day it is for a picnic, there’s a good chance he/she’s being sarcastic, since most people enjoy fine days and picnics.
Other facial expressions that often accompany sarcasm include eye rolls, raised eyebrows, or shrugged shoulders.
Sometimes people employing sarcasm have seemingly no facial expression at all; that is, they have a “flat” affect, and are speaking in a “deadpan” tone. People who use sarcasm often may not know how to respond to a situation, so they respond sarcastically.
Consider if the person seems to be telling the truth.
Sarcasm could be when someone says something untrue without intending to deceive anyone. A sarcastic remark implies the opposite of what’s being said.
For example, when someone says, “Great weather for a picnic,” on a day that’s clearly not ideal for a picnic, he/she’s being sarcastic.
The remark isn’t intended to mean that it was, in fact, great weather for a picnic.
Check for hyperbole.
A hyperbolic statement is one that is greatly exaggerated, not meant to be taken literally. This type of statement can often be used sarcastically. For example, if a person really thought a singer’s concert was terrible, he might say, “That was so good – I wish I’d paid 5 times as much for the ticket. A bargain!” To detect hyperbole, see if the statement matches reality. You can then read the person’s tone to determine whether it was meant to be funny or aggressive.
The use of hyperbolic sarcasm might be either to amuse, or cause aggression. In the example above, if the speaker assumes that he’s speaking to a friend who feels similarly disappointed in the over-payment for their tickets, the statement is sarcastic but not to wound.
If the statement was made to the host of the evening’s entertainment, the use of the sarcasm may be intended to be hurtful.
Sometimes hyperbole is used to express enthusiasm, not sarcasm. For example, someone might say, “That was the most delicious cupcake in the entire world. I could eat 10 dozen more!” If the person ate the whole cupcake, you can assume the statement wasn’t meant to be sarcastic.
Notice certain phrases are frequently sarcastic.
There are certain phrases that are so often used sarcastically that you should assume that they’re not intended literally. For example, when someone says, “Aren’t you special?” or “Tell it to someone who cares,” the meaning is almost always sarcastic.
When someone responds to a statement with the phrase, “Big deal,” the phrase is almost always meant sarcastically. (This only applies to the phrase when used as a single utterance, however; the words “big deal” are usually sincere when spoken within a sentence.)
The phrase “yeah, right,” is sarcastic nearly 25% of the time it’s used, according to one study.
Be aware of regional variations in sarcasm.
Sarcasm is more a part of common language in some portions of the United States than others. Regional surveys have found that sarcasm is much more common in northern states than southern. In addition, more Northerners describe themselves as being sarcastic than Southerners. But it doesn’t mean you can’t find any in the Southern areas.
Children as young as 4 years old can pick up sarcasm from their parents and/or caregivers, and also any other people who may be around the child (or children) often. That is how they can grow up using it. Sarcasm isn’t necessarily a horrible thing, but it can be a bad habit.
Know that certain conditions affect recognition of sarcasm.
While there are many cultural cues available to correctly interpret sarcastic remarks, these cues may be inaccessible to people with certain cognitive processing issues. For example, it may be quite difficult for people with closed head injuries, brain lesions, autism or schizophrenia may to learn to recognize sarcasm.
If you notice a diminished ability to recognize sarcasm in others, this may be a sign of dementia or other neurodegenerative disease.
Sarcasm is the simplest form of a lie. If a person can’t reliably interpret sarcasm, he’ll likely be unable to discern a lie.