How ‘Snarkiness’ and Four Other Communication Flaws Damage Your Success

scolded-businessmanAs a coach working with folks to improve their lives and careers, I hear from hundreds of people a month who are dealing with a wide variety of personal and professional problems. What’s become abundantly clear is that there are several common, damaging communication patterns that contribute to or exacerbate our life and work challenges, but most often, people are not at all aware of them.

The most common communication flaw I see every day, a hundred times a day, is what I call ‘snarkiness’ – being mean, harsh, demeaning, disrespectful, and slapping someone down with disdain and sarcasm. It might be enjoyable for some (in a sadistic way) to be snarky to others, and some individuals find it helps them relieve their anxiety and insecurity for a split second. But in the long run, it destroys relationships, crushes opportunities and closes pathways to greater happiness, success and fulfillment.

Why are people snarky and mean?

I’ve found that it’s often because they have ego and self-esteem challenges, and are addicted to putting others down so they can feel better about themselves. Sadly, this type of snarky, cruel behavior is like a bottomless pit – it’s dark, cold, sad and lonely, and leaves you feeling even more isolated and disconnected after you utter your cruel words than before.

Your snarkiness and sarcasm reveal a great deal more about you and how you see yourself and the world than you realize, and none of it is positive.

Truthfully, it’s easy to be snarky. Just spend 30 minutes on the internet and you can see that we humans have that behavior down to a science. The more evolved behavior to engage in – that requires strength, self-awareness, self-esteem, and courage — is to be kind, patient, compassionate, and gentle, to be a teacher and an uplifter of spirits, rather than one who tears others down. When you can do that on a regular basis, then you’re really doing something special and important.

Tip: If you find you’re addicted to snarkiness, it’s helpful to think about how old that behavior is.

When did you first start being snarky to people and why? What you get out of it – what is the core reason you keep putting others down in a demeaning way? Then consider what you’re losing by engaging in it. I’m guessing you’ll be able to remember just when it started in your life, and perhaps see how it was a coping mechanism for your feeling hurt, betrayed and abandoned by others.

Here’s my take on how snarkiness hurts your success and relationships, via my Facebook Live “Brave Up Tuesday” series:

Below are 4 other communication flaws I see regularly that crush success, empowerment and fulfillment:

Apologizing for no good reason

In my career courses, we talk about how so many women say “I’m sorry” when an apology is not necessary or warranted, and when they’re not sorry. They’ll say “sorry” scores of times each and every day for all sorts of reasons like bumping into someone with their cart in the grocery store, or needing to borrow a chair from someone’s table, or reaching over someone to grab the salt.

The question is: Are you really sorry for these events or situation? No, you’re not (or shouldn’t be). There are far better, stronger, more appropriate and empowered words to use for these experiences, such as “Pardon me,” or “Excuse me,” or even “Thanks for letting me reach over you.”

Tip: In the next week, watch yourself every single time you say “Sorry.” Catch it in midstream, and stop when an apology is not in order. Choose another word or phrase that more accurately describes how you feel.

Stop being “sorry” for living, and uttering an apology when one is not called for.

Being defensive in your words and tone

I remember a painful time in my corporate life when I was presenting some big marketing plans for a product I was responsible for, to a group of senior leaders, and the President didn’t like what I was recommending. He pushed back in what I felt was a disrespectful way. I began to get defensive and upset internally, and then the emotions starting flowing. I had continually felt misunderstood and devalued by this individual, and this time was no different.

Unfortunately, all of that showed, in my words, responses, my facial expressions and body language. When I look back, I realize that I was overly emotional and unable to remain calm and collected because deep down, I didn’t feel secure or experienced in that role, nor did I feel I had the support of senior leadership, and that made me feel very defensive and unsafe.

But when we communicate defensively, we reveal to everyone that we feel unsafe and unprotected, and we let it show that we’re not secure in our own views and beliefs. And that engenders in others a greater loss of faith in us.

Tip: When you’re receiving critique, do your best to experience the critique or criticism without racing to your own defense. Take three deep breaths, down to your toes. Listen to what’s being said with as much objectivity and calm as possible, and do what you can to neutralize your “fight or flight” response. Respond authoritatively and calmly, from a place of knowing and self-assurance, not from a stance of defending and protecting. If the critique is unfair or cruel, figure out the best way to address that, but most likely, it’s not getting defensive in front of a crowd.

Rambling on and on without a clear message

Often in coaching individuals, we have limited time in which to cover a lot of ground. Many folks will ramble on and on, not being able to be clear, focused or direct about what they want and what they’re experiencing. I’ll typically have to intervene and ask some pointed questions that get them back on track.

The same goes for meetings and gatherings. Some people are just unable to clearly focus on one idea, and stay on track with that idea, to lead the conversation, planning or action forward. This lack of focus in your communications, especially in situations such as meetings where you have a very short amount of time in which to offer your ideas effectively and cogently, can hurt your chances of being seen as authoritative and competent.

Tip: Do your best to prepare for your important conversations, presentations and meetings so you can get to the point quickly and powerfully. Know what you want to say, and practice it with another before the meeting, if that’s helpful. Make sure that what you share is relevant and moves the discussion forward, and isn’t a monologue that adds nothing to the conversation. Prepare your case or ideas and share them in the cleanest, most effective way possible. Cut out all the fat and any unhelpful emotion (often the right level and balance of emotion is necessary to make a compelling point), and make sure that you know in one core sentence the most important point you’re trying to drive home.

You’re hurtful not helpful in your words and messages

Finally, one of the most damaging communication approaches is pretending you want to help but inflicting pain and hurt instead. You share your thoughts and beliefs without a care or consideration of who you’re speaking with, how they might receive your messages, and if what you have to say is, in fact, respectful of who they are and what they’re going through. Or, even worse, you willfully want to hurt the other person.

There are several key reasons behind this behavior, of finding yourself hurting others through your words rather than helping. I’ve found the most common reason is that you’re in constant state of hurt yourself, and your cup is empty.

When people chronically feel downtrodden by others, it’s just too hard for them to be supportive of someone else.

Tip: Start watching more closely the responses you receive from others. Are people responding to you in loving, caring and compassionate and respectful ways, or are they resisting you, moving away as if they are hurt? First you have to recognize what you’re doing, then you can change it. If you can’t stop yourself from hurting people through your words and behavior, it’s time to look more deeply at the hurts and wounds you’ve experienced – either in the past or in your current life — and get some help to heal your wounds, strengthen your boundaries, achieve more self-love, and build life-affirming relationships.

For more from Kathy Caprino, check out her TEDx talk “Time to Brave Up,” her Brave Up video library, and personal growth coaching programs.

Kathy Caprino

Kathy Caprino

Kathy Caprino currently runs a leadership and career success coaching and consulting firm focused on the advancement of women. A trained therapist and coach, Kathy has had the pleasure of working with over 10,000 emerging women leaders at Fortune 100 companies, national women's conferences, non-profits, academia and startups. Kathy has also served as a graduate instructor for New York University and career trainer for Mediabistro. She blogs for Forbes, Huffington Post, AARP's Life Reimagined and her own Ellia Communications career blog. Kathy is the author of Breakdown, Breakthrough: The Professional Woman's Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power and Purpose. You can reach Kathy at, Amazing Career Project, and connect on Twitter @kathycaprino, Facebook, LinkedIn, and on Google+.

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