Thinking About Teasing-- Something I've Never Thought Much About This Emotional Life - PBS

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 Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin's Bio

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, The Happiness Project.

Thinking About Teasing-- Something I've Never Thought Much About


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Because I saw it recommended in a post on Bob Sutton's great blog, Work Matters, I picked up a copy of David Dunning's book, Self-Insight: Roadblocks and Detours on the Path to Knowing Thyself.

It's a fascinating book, but I keep thinking about one passage, in particular:

“People commonly tease each other, but it appears that people who are teased misunderstand the intentions of the person doing the teasing. Often, teasing is done in a spirit of affection and playfulness, and teasers attempt to convey these intentions through subtle nonverbal cues. However those who are being teased tend to miss these benign aims. When they describe a time they teased their roommate, people tend to describe the action as more humorous and lighthearted than does the person being teased, who instead rates such incidents as more malicious and annoying. The good intentions of teasers are just not as obvious as teasers believe.” (Kruger, Gordon, Kuban, in press) (page 129)

Now I'm possessed with the desire to learn more about teasing -- a subject to which I've never given much thought.

I had noticed, however, that when I was growing up, my family didn't tease much. Teasing, sarcasm, playful put-downs...none of that. And that made for a very nice atmosphere.

It's certainly true that some people are more able to use teasing -- i.e., making fun or mocking someone playfully -- in a nice way than are others. Some people can use teasing as a way to make people feel closer, as a way to show friendship -- which is obviously a good thing. But maybe that's more in the nature of "joshing" (teasing lite) than real "teasing." Some people are good at using teasing as a way to bring up a difficult subject in a way that's a relief to everyone -- very tricky to do well.

It can be very tempting -- and I've known many people who make a habit of this -- to say that you're "joking" or "teasing" and therefore a person is humorless and thin-skinned if he or she feels angry or hurt at something you've said.

The test of whether you're being funny if someone else finds you funny. The test of whether your teasing is friendly is whether the person being teased finds it friendly.

I think that some people just don't have a good handle on what's funny and friendly and what's not. And maybe it's also a matter of the audience and expectations. I overheard a loving mother say to her daughter, "Hey, Messy Girl, are you planning to drag a brush through that rat's nest on your head?" She clearly thought this was fun, playful way to remind her daughter to brush her hair, but I would've been very hurt if my mother ever said something like that to me. But maybe that's just me, and my mother -- or maybe, as the study suggests, teasing is more hurtful than people assume. I wonder what that woman's daughter's reaction was. She didn't say anything; she didn't look amused.

What do you think about teasing?