Sarcasm with the written word is skill; a skill many of us do not have. The problem is using sarcasm in your business e-mail can be incorrectly perceived as being rude, terse or worse.
If you are not careful, that sarcasm can be amplified by a power of 10! Based on the situation and the emotions involved, the recipient may very well read into your sarcastic comment meaning that you did not intend — or much more than you intended!
Think about it this way. You could send that very same sarcastic comment to 5 different contacts and find that each instilled a different level of meaning to your words. Their reactions will be based on their relationship with you and/or the topic at hand. Why take that risk?
I’m not a fan of emoticons, but when joking or using sarcasm more times than not it helps to include a ;). Especially if you don’t use emoticons on a regular basis. Doing so will make it very clear that “I am joking!”. This way you make sure the other side knows you are kidding. Otherwise, you do risk your comment being taken seriously.
In professional communications, sarcasm (and emoticons) for the most part should be completely avoided. I’ve yet to see a situation where using sarcasm enhanced a situation. Instead it either exasperated the situation, reflected a lack of seriousness or “rubbed salt in the wound.” There is no place for any of that in business, right?
Wait and Reconsider
If you find you are being sarcastic in an e-mail, maybe it’s best you wait until the next day to see if you feel the same. Better yet think hard and long if your sense of humor is something that you know will be appreciated by the other side.