You may have read Snark Attack!, David Denby’s recent book about a new level of meanness by writers on the Web. His premise is that people are snarking others in the media. What’s a snark? It’s a nasty attack on someone who disagrees with you. It’s a little too personal, too. Denby’s concern is that this nastiness is destroying the quality of discourse in the media. He’s probably right.
But while snakiness may be new to the Web, it’s not new to business. We’ve all come across a snark or two in our careers, and the ways we’ve learned to deal with that toxic situation impacts our own professional health.
Imagine you work for a manager who has a volatile temper and a basic intolerance of others. If you’re wondering how this guy got into management, get in line. I’m still mystified because I worked for him and never could figure it out. One of the guys I worked with said, “He must have pictures of someone in management doing something wrong.” That would make sense. He probably had a whole slide show of pictures because that’s how bad a manager he was. This “charmer” led our weekly sales meetings. One meeting in particular stands out. The boss starts a discussion and it’s clear that there’s a big difference of opinions between the boss and one of the salesmen. The discussion quickly turns into an argument. Let the snarking begin: The boss yells at the salesman, “If you don’t do it the way I say and get that piece of business, I’ll cut your balls off.” I’m the only female in the room. I come from a family of all daughters where my parents never cursed. Imagine my surprise at this kind of nastiness. I had been in business for several years and worked with all kinds of guys so I had some preparation for the world of male-dominated business and how men think. But this was different. Even more shocking was that the salesman said nothing.
After the meeting, I went up to the manager who was attacked in the meeting. I asked him, “How could you let him talk to you that way?” He said, “He didn’t mean it.” I disagreed. “Of course he did.” Snarks do mean everything they say. They just think people will avoid returning fire and arguing with them. The snarks think they can get away with it — and some do.
If someone snarks you, you’ve got to respond. Not the way they do; there’s a more effective way.
First, don’t yell. If a snarker gets louder, you’ve got to respond in a softer voice. That way they sound really out of control. Then your only response is, “If you can’t talk in a civil tone, I don’t have to listen.” If someone is purely nasty, you can respond, “There’s no need to get personal. We can simply stick to the issues.”
Snarks do nothing productive for business. Unfortunately, snarkiness is not new in the business world. What may be new for you is that you now have a strategy to put a stop to it. You better implement your strategy — if you want the snarking to stop.