• Tue, Aug 2 2011

Study: Your Sarcastic Co-Worker May Be Making You More Creative

According to a new study from the Journal of Applied Psychology, embracing your inner Chandler Bing may make your co-workers more creative and productive. If you are not as up on the pop culture references as I am (and this is a pretty old one so you should go home after work and watch some TV), when I say embrace your inner Chandler Bing, I mean be sarcastic as much as possible.

The research, conducted by a team led by Bar-Ilan University’s Ella Miron-Spektor, confirms the widely-held belief that being the subject of someone’s anger can actually help you concentrate on certain types of tasks. If your boss yells at you about doing something, you are probably going to make sure you do it, so in that sense, anger is a motivator for production. Though yelling makes most situations better (example of sarcasm), it does not motivate creativity.

According to BNET, the researchers used 375 engineering students and asked them to pretend they were customer service agents. The students first listened to a recorded conversation between another customer service agent and a customer who was either neutral or hostile. In some of the conversations, the angry customer was sarcastic rather than openly hostile. The students were then asked to complete a straightforward problem-solving task or one that required more creativity. The study found that anger did help with analytic problem solving but not with creativity. People who heard the angry conversation did worse at the more creative problem. However, those who heard the sarcastic conversation did the best at problem-solving. From the study:

Comprehending sarcastic expressions requires more cognitive effort and complex
thinking than understanding direct anger (Smith & White, 1965). Cognitive effort is required both to decode the literal meaning of the words and to interpret the nuances of the speaker’s intended and often contradictory meaning. In encounters with sarcasm, observers must bear in mind the specific context, along with pragmatic information – beliefs, knowledge, and norms – of the speaker and the situation (Gibbs, 1986; McDonald, 1999). In this vein, Gibbs (1986) showed that participants remembered sarcastic remarks much better than non-sarcastic equivalents, because sarcastic remarks echoed established beliefs or social norms.

So managers should be snarky and sarcastic but not directly angry towards their employees. It is super fun to yell, but anger really only makes people work harder not smarter. Even if you are not the one being yelled at, people who observe anger can still be hindered creatively.  “Observing anger may interfere with people’s ability to perform complex tasks and more broadly handle situations involving high levels of ambiguity. Exposure to anger, and the prevention orientation thereby created, may disable one’s ability to integrate information that is seemingly unrelated to the situation at hand.
Threat-rigidity dynamics may also make alternative courses of action less accessible to
memory, and therefore less likely to be used.”

Photo: Warner Brothers’ Friends

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