Many people enjoy a little bit of sarcastic humor now and again, but we need to be careful that we don’t use too much sarcasm. It’s easy for sarcastic (and hurtful) comments to come out of your mouth without you really meaning them.
Being sarcastic all the time can become your default. This can turn other people off and make you seem rude, cold, untrustworthy, and even cruel. Changing how you communicate and being less sarcastic can help you to form deeper and more meaningful relationships.
You might also find that you come across as sarcastic, even when you don’t mean to. Here we have our top tips on how to be less sarcastic and also how to avoid appearing sarcastic when you’re not.
1. Embrace being open and honest
People often use sarcastic comments to avoid having honest conversations about how they are feeling or how a particular situation is affecting them. Although this can feel safer, it also keeps other people at a distance and can make them appear “prickly.”
For example, if you’re upset and someone asks, “Are you OK?” you might be tempted to reply with a sarcastic “Oh yeah. I’m just peachy!”
In that example, the sarcastic response protects you from admitting your feelings, but it is also lashing out at the person who was worried about you. Instead, try being honest about how you feel.
If you’re upset but don’t want to discuss it, try saying, “Actually, I’m a little bit upset about what just happened, but I’d rather not talk about it right now.” This answer still gives you space and avoids more questions, but it doesn’t hurt someone else’s feelings in the process.
Being open can feel vulnerable, so start working on this with people you trust and who you feel safe with.
2. Be direct
Often, you can change a sarcastic comment into a direct one. This allows you to communicate the same message but in a more open and honest way. Try thinking back to recent sarcastic comments you’ve made and try to rephrase them in a more direct way. For example;
“Well, you’re just a ray of sunshine” can become, “You seem down today.”
“That was so helpful” can become, “That didn’t actually solve the problem I was having.”
“That’s just great” can become, “I really didn’t need this today.”
“Yeah, because that’s never happened” can become, “I think that happens more often than you might imagine.”
Being direct changes the focus of your comment and makes it easier for others to engage with what you’re saying.
3. Understand why you use sarcasm
It can be difficult to change your behavior if you’re not really sure why you do it. Try spending some time thinking about why you are sarcastic. Challenge simple statements such as “I just have a sarcastic personality” by asking yourself what that means.
Often you might find that you use sarcasm for reasons that you don’t particularly like, for example, to make yourself seem superior or as a defense mechanism to stop others from getting too close. Try not to feel bad about this. It’s actually completely normal.
Once you understand why you like being sarcastic, try to find other ways to fulfill that need. If being sarcastic makes you feel clever, try to find other ways to achieve that. For example, you could learn to ask insightful questions.
4. Understand why some people don’t like sarcasm
Even if you know it’s getting in the way of forming close relationships with others, it can be difficult to see sarcasm as a bad thing. Being sarcastic can feel natural and even as though it is a part of your identity. This makes it easy to discount people who are hurt by our sarcasm as being “over-sensitive” and gives us an excuse not to change.
Sarcasm can hurt, especially when it’s used with someone who trusts you such, as in a relationship. Studies show that people making sarcastic comments regularly see them as less aggressive than people hearing them do.
Rather than seeing yourself as a “sarcastic person,” try to think of sarcasm as a tool you can use when you want to. Not using sarcasm around people you don’t know well, or those you know don’t enjoy it, isn’t hiding a part of your personality. It’s about showing that you respect them and their feelings.
Be especially mindful of the impact of being sarcastic when there is a power imbalance between you and the other person. This is particularly problematic in the workplace, for example. A boss being sarcastic towards an employee can make the employee feel powerless and belittled.
5. Avoid sarcasm in your self-talk
If you find that you’re frequently sarcastic in conversations with others, you will probably find that you’re similarly sarcastic in your internal monologue. Trying to be both kind and direct in how you talk to yourself can make it easier to change how you speak to others.
If you catch yourself being sarcastic in your self-talk, rephrase your comment with a more direct and positive one. If you say “Nice one, Genius” to yourself when you make a mistake, try following it up with “Actually, that’s not being kind to myself. I made a mistake, but that’s OK. I’ll do better next time.”
6. Differentiate between sarcasm and intelligence
It’s easy to assume that being sarcastic can make you seem more confident, intelligent, and witty. This is partly because deeply sarcastic characters in films and on TV are also highly intelligent, for example, Dr. House or Sherlock.
In real life, there is no evidence for a link between IQ and sarcasm (although it has occasionally been linked to creativity).
Think of real-life experts and geniuses, and even people in your own life that you trust to be clever and thoughtful. These people are more often characterized by a love of teaching and a sense of humility than they are by a caustic wit and sarcasm. Try to use these people as inspiration for how to demonstrate your intelligence in a positive way.
Don’t blame others for misunderstanding sarcasm
We also tend to think that people who “miss” our sarcasm are less intelligent because obviously we were being sarcastic. The trouble is that being sarcastic often requires very little effort, whilst correctly recognizing and interpreting sarcasm is actually a much more complex mental task.
If someone’s tired, distracted, or busy, it’s very easy for them not to notice that you were being sarcastic. If this happens, try to remind yourself that you had placed the burden of the communication onto them, and remind yourself to try being more direct in the future.
Recognize that some people find it more difficult to understand sarcasm. People with autism or some other neurodivergent conditions can really struggle to know when you’re being sarcastic.
7. Consider how others can respond
Throwing out a sarcastic quip might seem harmless, but it can often limit the range of responses that other people can make. Think back to some of your recent sarcastic comments. What could people have said in reply?
If we take an example from above, saying, “Well, you’re just a ray of sunshine,” doesn’t give the other person many options in terms of their reply. Most of the time, you’ll just get an “I’m fine” in response. Your sarcastic comment hasn’t made the situation any better, and it might have made it worse.
If you say, “You seem down today,” you’re making the same observation, but you might find that you get a wider range of responses. You might still be told, “I’m fine,” but you could also get “Yeah, I’m having a rough week” or “Hm, no. I’m OK. I was just lost in thought.”
By thinking about how other people might respond, you’re thinking about how your sarcasm helps or hinders your conversations. This can also help you to distinguish between affectionate sarcasm and cruel or hurtful sarcasm.
8. Prioritize kind over funny
Sarcasm can be an easy way to get laughs, so many of us use it when we try to be funny. Unfortunately, it can also hurt other people’s feelings. Although a “good sense of humor” is desirable, most people would prefer to spend time with someone who’s really kind rather than someone who’s really funny.
The next time you’re tempted to say something sarcastic, ask yourself whether it’s kind. If not, think about whether you should really say it. Remember, it’s only a joke if everyone’s laughing. If someone isn’t, it could be bullying.
9. Make space for serious conversations
Many people use sarcasm as a way to avoid having deep or personal conversations. Pay attention to when you’re especially likely to be sarcastic. If you are more likely to be sarcastic when someone starts talking about serious topics, you might be using sarcasm as a defense mechanism.
The best way to overcome your discomfort with serious conversations is to gain experience in having them. If you notice that you want to make a sarcastic comment because you’re starting to feel uncomfortable, remind yourself that this is part of building a deeper relationship. Try to delay your sarcastic comment for a little longer each time until you start to feel confident that you can handle serious conversations.
10. Create a notebook for one-liners
Even if we realize how bad sarcasm can be for our relationships and communication, it can be hard not to feel proud of a particularly funny comment. Rather than trying to stifle your sarcastic humor, try creating a notebook or a list on your phone where you write down sarcastic comments rather than saying them.
You might want to share these later with people you know enjoy your sarcasm, but do be careful that you don’t end up putting people down behind their backs. Consider keeping the context and people involved anonymous.
Keeping a list of sarcastic comments you didn’t say (and even ones you did) can also help you to think about alternative ways of handling a situation. Try looking back at some sarcastic comments in your list and think about what you were actually trying to achieve in that conversation. Thinking about other ways to approach past conversations can give you more options in future ones.
11. Avoid habitual sarcasm
If you are frequently sarcastic, other people will have difficulty recognizing the times when you’re being sincere. This can lead to miscommunications and people (including you) getting hurt.
If you’re already known as a sarcastic person, understand that it will probably take other people a long time to expect sincere and direct conversation from you. Try to be patient with them. Remind yourself, “In the past, I probably would have said something sarcastic here. I need to give them time to adjust to my new communication style.”
You might not always notice that you’re being sarcastic. Try asking a close friend to point it out to you. This is usually most effective if they call you out during the conversation, but they can tell you afterward if that’s too awkward or embarrassing.
12. Match your body language to your words
Most of us think of sarcasm in terms of things we say. In actual fact, it’s perfectly possible to be sarcastic without saying a single word, for example, through a slow clap or a pat on the head. We also use our body language and voice patterns to signal to the person we’re talking to that we’re being sarcastic now.
If people are assuming that you’re being sarcastic when you don’t want to be, you might be giving off some of these signals.
A common sign that someone’s being sarcastic is that they look away from the person they’re talking to. Show that you’re sincere by making a little more eye contact than you normally would.
Another common sign of sarcasm is having a “blank face” or being “deadpan.” This is also usually associated with having a very flat or expressionless voice. There are loads of tips for having a more animated voice, which will often also help to relax your facial expression.
Generally, sarcasm is usually the opposite of being open and honest, so try to work on having open body language. Being more active, for example, by nodding or shaking your head or gesturing with your arms, can also seem less sarcastic.
13. Elaborate to show sincerity
Sarcastic comments are usually short and pithy. Show that you mean what you’re saying by making more than just a single sentence. For example, “You look nice today” could be meant in a genuine or sarcastic way. In contrast, “You look really nice today. That shirt is a great color on you; it really brings out your eyes” is much more obviously a compliment.
You can also use particular words or phrases to show that you’re not being sarcastic. If you realize that something you have said might have come across as sarcastic, try adding “honestly” in a lower voice to the end of your sentence. You might also want to make eye contact and nod as you say it.
14. Re-read your texts before you send
Texts, messages, and emails are renowned for misunderstandings. Even the most innocuous comment can somehow come across as sarcastic without the context of your voice and body language.
Re-read your messages before you send them. Try to consider different tones of voice. You can try reading them aloud in an annoyed or sarcastic tone and see whether they still sound ok. If not, try to reword them or add emojis (if this is appropriate in the context) to show your real meaning.
15. Mean what you say
Sometimes, we come across as sarcastic because we’re trying to say something we don’t really mean. For example, you’re less likely to sound sarcastic when you compliment someone on something you’re really excited about than if you don’t really mean the compliment you’re giving.
Rather than trying to hide your insincerity better, consider being more careful to only say things that you really mean. No compliment is often better than an insincere or sarcastic one.
16. Pause before you speak
Fans of sarcasm often pride themselves on how quickly they are able to make sarcastic replies. Taking a pause before you speak, and speaking slowly, can make you sound less sarcastic. In fact, you will often sound thoughtful and considerate instead.
17. Avoid others who are sarcastic and mean
We are often judged by the company we keep, no matter how unfair that might be. If you spend a lot of time with people who are sarcastic, mean, or verbally cruel, people who aren’t part of that group can easily assume that you have those same characteristics. This means that they might be wary when you speak and assume that you’re being sarcastic when you’re not.
You don’t have to stop being friends with people who matter to you but think carefully about your social circle. How would you feel about other people assuming you’re like them? If that feels uncomfortable, you might want to think about whether you could create a different social circle.
Common questions about being sarcastic
What does sarcasm say about a person?
Being overly sarcastic can be a sign of being insecure or unable to talk directly about problems they are facing. Being sarcastic can also suggest to others that you prioritize appearing clever or funny over their feelings. Extreme sarcasm can even be a sign that someone is a bully.
Why do I always sound sarcastic?
People sound sarcastic if they have a level tone of voice with little inflection and limited emotion through their facial expressions and gestures. You will also appear more sarcastic if you make short statements with little elaboration. To avoid appearing sarcastic, try using a warm tone of voice.
Why should you avoid the use of sarcasm?
Being sarcastic puts up barriers between you and other people. It can make it difficult for other people to be genuine and sincere around you, as they worry that they will be mocked. This leads to superficial social interactions. You can come across as mean, making other people want to avoid you.
How can I deal with other people’s sarcasm?
Sarcasm is rarely challenged, so being direct can have a strong effect. You can try consistently responding to sarcastic comments as if they were meant genuinely. This can make a sarcastic person uncomfortable. You can also address the sarcasm explicitly by asking, “Why would you say that?”