You probably wouldn’t pair sarcasm and productivity together, but it turns out there may be a link. A new study shows that hearing sarcasm may actually boost our ability to focus on our work and solve problems more creatively.
Jena McGregor, writing for the Washington Post, points to a study from the Journal of Applied Psychology that tested how hearing different types of customer service calls affected students and their ability to perform. In the study, students imagined they were a customer service representative listening to other customer service calls, and then were asked to solve analytical problems. At first they listened to angry calls and pleasant calls, and the angry calls tended to make the students more focused but not necessarily any better at solving problems. If the calls featured sarcastic humour along with the anger, however, things changed for the better:
Despite also listening to a form of anger – albeit laced with humour this time – these students performed better on the creative problems. The study also showed that students exposed to sarcasm performed better on problems that required more “cognitive complexity,” or the ability to look at issues from more than one angle, than those that didn’t hear such comments. The researchers suggest that while the underlying anger helped to focus the students, the inherent humour of sarcasm helped to offset the damage that anger can do.
How well this translates into real-world action is anyone’s guess, but next time you find yourself in conflict with others, try using sarcasm instead of outright anger. The added humour could make the conflict go down a bit more easily and produce better results.