Have you ever wondered why teasing doesn't always get the intended results?
Because it'sambiguous. And anytime we're ambiguous
we risk being misunderstood. Our fun can turn into someone else's
humiliation if it's misguided or misinterpreted.
Justin Kruger, a professor at the Stern School of Business at New
York University, recently conducted research in this area. He asked
roommates to tease each other and
found that those who were teased almost consistently feltmore
antagonized than was intended. Instead of feeling a little "nudge" of teasing, they felt ridiculed.
Here's what really happens:The actual content of a
tease is, by definition, negative. But seldom do the teasers intend it
to be taken literally. So they try to temper it with body language or a
tone of voice that implies "only kidding." Its too late. The person
being teased is actually unaware or unmoved by the harmless intentions
and perceives it as being malicious.
Teasing: A potential career-ending moment
During the past year I've intervened in two situations that were
presented as harassment cases. In one instance the accused apologizedimmediatelyin front of a roomful of people.
Not good enough.
A complaint was
issued and follow-up action prescribed.
In the second, a similar tease
took place but with no apology. Instead, an explanation was offered to
explain the tease and why the recipient "shouldn't be offended." It was
unbelievably difficult for the "perpetrator" to understand why the
person was so deeply offended. In both instances the teaser was a high
ranking executive and the recipient was a woman one level below in the
hierarchy. Both situations were ultimately resolved. In the interim,
both execs were in genuine danger of losing their jobs.
How to Tease
Kathleen McGowan of Psychology Today magazine offers these tips:
Choose your subject carefully. Being ribbed about something silly you
did or said is much easier to take than being kidded about a basic
trait like weight or appearance. Harass your friend for bragging, for
mispronouncing words or for being unable to parallel park—not about his
big nose or her hefty legs.
Teaseupor across your social world, not down. Because teasing
playfully punctures another person's sense of self, it is more wounding
when directed at someone of lower status.
Exaggerate the tease. Go for absurdity, not subtlety. Exaggerating your
body language and your words clarifies that you're just joking and
makes it less likely that your intent will be misread.
Bonus Love-life Tip
From Kathleen: "In the context of romance, women are more
likely to feel insulted by teasing than are men, perhaps because guys
are used to it: Young boys often express friendship through taunting