Trouble in the office? The Grindstone is here to help. Write in with your workplace drama and we’ll try to help you sort through the office politics and keep moving up the corporate ladder.
I appreciate a good joke. I have no problem with a little humor in the office. I cannot remember ever having a problem with a dry wit from co-workers, bosses or assistants before. But suddenly, I have an employee with such an odd sense of sarcasm that I can’t a read on him at all. I never seem to know if he’s being serious or not, and some of his humor can come off as downright inappropriate.
Every time I give my assistant an odd look or try to correct something he says that seems a little out of line, he tells me that it was “just a joke.” He laughs it off, like the whole thing is funny and amusing and I just need to lighten up. I really don’t want to seem like an overly serious person, but sometimes the office isn’t made for humor. Especially humor that’s difficult to read. I cringe when I think about him talking to customers in that manner.
Is there a way to deal with someone who seems to use sarcasm in almost every conversation they have? How can I make them understand that it’s just not funny?
If everyone who thought that they were genuinely hysterical was actually funny, there would be a lot more amazing Comedy Central specials. I wouldn’t have to watch the same Louie CK or Lewis Black routines over and over again. Unfortunately, it takes a lot more work than most people realize to land a good joke, or pull of sarcastic snarking. The majority of the population just isn’t that talented.
However, that doesn’t stop a whole lot of people from trying. And it sounds like your assistant is working on his routine in the office, which can never be a good thing.
You’re right, in a business office, there needs to be a standard of professional behavior. That doesn’t mean that the environment is boring or unpleasant. You have every right to explain to your assistant that his behavior isn’t coming across well, and that it leads to some awkwardness in the office. Here’s a few tips on how to let the aspiring-comedian down gently.
- Humor is subjective. You can only classify something as a “joke,” if the audience finds it funny. This is the key principle that’s causing problems for your assistant. Instead of telling him that he shouldn’t say something, explain that other people don’t always understand his humor. Acknowledge that the sarcasm isn’t coming from a bad place, it’s just being lost on the audience.
- Set “professional time.” If your assistant’s sarcasm is a deeply ingrained part of his personality that isn’t easy for him to change, give him some examples of key times when it’s the most troublesome. Ask him to work on these areas first. A perfect example would be when working with clients. Let him know that he needs to avoid offending them, and that sometimes sarcasm is easily misread. Hopefully, he’ll begin to see the difference between professional behavior and personal humor.
- Ask for clarification. When your assistant’s humor gets hard to read, don’t feel embarrassed asking for clarification. If you aren’t sure of his meaning, ask him to make it clear. He should get the hint that he needs to do a better job of communicating and you’ll get the answer you need.
Above all else, remember that you’re in charge. You need to be able to communicate with your assistant and if his humor is getting in the way, you don’t have to feel embarrassed about broaching the topic with him. What shouldn’t you do? Fight snark with snark. You’ll reinforce his bad habit and then no one will understand each other.