It turns out that years of sharpening your snark skills may have done more for you besides generate a few laughs from friends and coworkers. 

Quartz recently reported on a new study from the Harvard Business School, which suggests that blurting out sarcastic remarks--and listening to them--may increase one's ability to think creatively and abstractly. The study involved 300 people who listened to a series of sincere, sarcastic, or neutral remarks in groups of two. Each pair was then asked to generate answers to a series of questions that tested their ability to think outside of the box. Those who listened to the snarkfest performed better than those who did not. 

But before you get loose-lipped in front of your boss or at the company picnic, know this: The researchers also discovered that after exchanging or even simply recalling a sarcastic conversation, the study participants reported more conflict amongst their partnerships.

Business psychologist Michael West of Lancaster University says that sarcasm should be discouraged in the workplace, telling Quartz, "There are much more effective ways of boosting creativity which are less damaging to the climate of a team or an organization."

Still, sarcasm has its staunch defenders. Tom Gimbel, president and chief executive of Chicago-based staffing firm LaSalle Network, said in an interview with Forbes that he thinks sarcastic criticism from a boss can force an employ to stretch his or her critical thinking muscles. "Because you have to peel back the layers of the satirical remarks, your brain is forced to analyze and interpret different possible meanings behind the comments, hence increasing ingenuity and problem-solving skills," Gimbel told Forbes. And the HBS researchers did find that participants' creative thinking increased and no signs of increased conflict were reported when sarcasm was expressed by someone the participant viewed as a "trusted other."

Your best bet, if you just can't live without a little sarcasm in your life: keep salty remarks limited to conversations between you and your equally sarcastic deskmates. Don't bring them out in group setting, and risk offending some of your sensitive colleagues. Alison Green of the hiring blog Ask a Manager, says in a blog post on sarcasm in the workplace that, "occasional sarcasm can be fine, but when taken too far, can come across as negative, bitter and cutting." So sarcasm-lovers: don't go viewing yourself as a creative genius just yet. 

Published on: Jul 29, 2015