English: The "SarcMark" is used to e...Back in the 90s, I was a very young people manager. Too young. One of my direct reports looked at me and said, “I can’t tell when you are serious and when you are joking.”

I said, “I am never joking.”

She said, “Sometimes you joke, right?”

And I said, “Yeah, maybe.”

But not really. In a passive-aggressive society where most people cover their caustic emotions with a jokey tone, I am an outlier because I say direct and inappropriate things — and I mean it.

There is no subtext. When I say that I hate you, I really do hate you.

And I am not very good at hearing sarcasm, either. I struggle to interpret tone and nuance in voices. Do you like my work or is it really the biggest pile of trash you’ve ever seen? I can’t tell and you are killing me.

My greatest challenge comes in text and email. How the F am I supposed to know when someone is being sarcastic on the internet. I barely know you in real life. Did you win the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor? No? Okay, please just talk to me.

Now listen, I like to joke around and mess with people. It is fun to say outlandish and irrational things. I am cynical® and bitter. But life isn’t an episode of Seinfeld. I prefer to have one conversation instead of a meta-conversation within the conversation.

If you are one of those people who is deeply sarcastic, please do me a favor and stop talking to me. Just kidding. Or am I? How would you know? Here’s an idea: how about you spend a week trying to be as direct as possible? You don’t have to be rude like me. That’s not the correct approach.

  • But don’t say anything with a double meaning and expect people to pick up on it.
  • Don’t assume people understand when you are joking.
  • And if someone is sarcastic with you, don’t compete.

It’s tough, I know, but sarcasm is a lazy behavior. It feels like writer’s block. And nothing good comes from leaning on a behavior that amounts to nothing more than an inability to express how you really feel.

Let’s make our conversations at work — and in real life — matter. Tell me how you feel!

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