Programs like The Office have brought workplace politics to the public’s attention with a touch of humour. But it’s not quite so funny when this reflects your real-life workplace. Sarcastic comments, common in Australian culture, can sometimes be interpreted as verbal abuse, and it’s important that you, as a worker, know where to draw the line.
First Things First: Know Your Avenues
Before you go any further, it’s important to know that there are options available if you’re involved in a verbal abuse incident in the workplace. It’s always best to discuss things calmly and directly with the other party. Don’t just put up with it. Most people will be horrified, having had no idea they were having that effect, apologise profusely, and aim never to do so again. In this case, congratulations – you’ve solved your dilemma!
Unfortunately, not everyone will react this way. People may be defensive or simply refuse to acknowledge a different perspective. If they don’t respond to your discussion, you have a few options. Approach management and speak with them about the issue. You may have a union that can advise about workplace relations. Alternatively, there are legal professionals like Patinos Personal Lawyers that specialise in this field. Don’t be afraid to reach out; you spend a lot of your waking life at work, so make sure you’re happy there.
Sarcasm Isn’t Verbal Abuse… Or Is It?
So, what is sarcasm, what is verbal abuse, and where do they get confused? This issue is quite subjective; the distinction between the two often comes down to your perception, the perception of the other person(s) involved, and the relationship between you and them. While a comment like “How do you even have a job here?” after someone makes a minor error could be hilarious with someone who you’ve become friends with outside the office, a similar remark could go down very badly with someone you only speak with on a professional basis. Always err on the side of caution until you’ve seen evidence that sarcastic jokes are welcomed by the other individual.
Sarcasm: Best When General, Not Personal
Great sarcasm can be about a situation, but it shouldn’t target a person or anything personal. Sarcastic comments about general things should be ok. For instance, “Isn’t the weather fantastic?” during a thunderstorm probably wouldn’t be misconstrued. In the same situation, saying to a female colleague “I bet you’re glad you decided to do your hair today” might seem innocent, but a comment that is personal could be interpreted as verbal abuse.
What to Do if You’re Unsure
Very rarely do people intentionally insult someone to their face in a working environment. But, if you still aren’t sure of the barrier, it’s better to say nothing. If you make a comment, don’t let it be about any particular person or company. This lessens the likelihood for someone feeling attacked by the comment. If you hear something that seems inappropriate, take the opportunity to speak with the person and define the line with them.
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How have you defined the line between sarcasm and verbal abuse in your workspace? Share your experience below.