Is It Ok To Rip On People?

Yesterday, someone asked me if it is ok to ‘take the p@ss’ out of people, he believed that by doing so, it was ruining his friendships and making him feel insecure and unsophisticated with his sense of humour.

So I thought today, I’d write about what I said to him and what we shared in our discussion.

As a boy, teenager and young adult, I played in a number of sports teams with my fellow boys, men and blokes. I socialised with them a great deal too, as you’d expect and a central theme to the banter that went on, was teasing each other, pulling legs, taking the mickey… Yes, ripping on each other.

It is part of how things were.Yet I also know many people who consider it a low form of wit, and downright unkind… It needs some balance.

Today, I am incredibly cautious about who and how I tease. Mainly because my social circles have changed a great deal, and there are many people, places and situations that react and respond differently to being with a group of lads in the pub after a football game!

That said, these days I tend to find that people only ever pull my leg if they are really comfortable with me, I think of it as a good sign if someone can share some banter with me. Likewise, I only tease someone if I know they can take it, and if it is going to be fun for us both. It can be a really intimate thing to do with another. When done right, teasing and leg pulling is loads of fun and still makes me laugh big belly laughs!

Ripping on another is a risky business though, isn’t it?  Potentially, an ill-considered tease could end friendships! In order for a tease to be received well, we rely on people being able to notice the way things are said and the array of nonverbal signals showing that what was said was not meant in the usual way.   So we say one thing and at the same time undercut it with body language and tone of voice. So for example, if someone turns up late for one of my training classes in the morning, if I said something like “Good afternoon John, I hope we are not interrupting your lie-in”  I’d be ribbing that student, all the while though smiling in a wry fashion and looking at that student in a jovial manner.

Of course, in reality, I’d never do such a thing. J

There are of course problems with this way of doing things because nonverbal communication, however well-intentioned is incredibly easy to misconstrue and misunderstand. So teasing and pulling the leg of people has to be done with some caution.

Especially since I had a piece of research highlighted recently. Professor Justin Kruger, of the New York University business school conducted a study in which a variety of roommates and good friends were asked to pull each others legs. The results showed that those who were teased pretty much always felt more antagonised than the other person intended. The person being teased almost always felt ridiculed rather than having some gentle fun.

It is certainly a consideration for people like myself who often think nothing about teasing a fellow!

With that in mind, it is worth considering how you do this… If someone pulls my leg for having ginger hair, I don’t take it that well. But if they poke fun at the flailing fortunes of my football team, or the way I tend to be so self-righteous at dinner parties, it is a different story. So it is worth being aware of teasing about silly things rather than personal attributes weight or appearance. Have fun with a friend about the way he shows off, or the way she tidies up after everyone rather than the mole on her chin or his beer belly.

Without wanting to veer off too far into controversy corner here, men are more accustomed to teasing and ripping on one another, which may account for the fact that women are more likely to be insulted or offended by teasing than men.

I think the reason that some of my close friends manage to get away with teasing as adults in their 3rd and 4th decade of life, is that they exaggerate so hilariously. That is, they tease in ridiculous and absurd ways, with little or no subtlety. When the body language is then exaggerated so greatly, it shows that you are really just teasing and ensures that no-one is going to misconstrue it.

Those of you that are my students, or have been in the past, you know what I’m talking about here…

Finally, I’d say this: Beware of your intention. If your intention is that of having fun, sharing the intimacy of a tease and both sides enjoying it, then that will usually come through. If your intention is unkind, the recipient will sense that, and probably quite rightly be offended.


Adam Eason

If you have ever caught ‘The Weakest Link’ with Ann Robinson (sorry for the UK TV reference for anybody overseas) you will have noticed that most of her remarks to contestants is downright personal and rude – and yet even though they are being ridiculed on national TV they seem to take it without offence. I find that rather strange. How would you explain the behaviour of the contestants Adam?

Adam Eason

Hi Keith, parading as me indeed!
Well there is a level of expectancy with the Weakest link, isn’t there? People expect it and therefore deal with much of it before hand. That said, on TV they may not show offence or upset, but I expect many of them really do feel that way following a show.

Keith Watson

Hi Adam,
That was amusing – people will think you were schizophrenic and talking to yourself. It was I Keith made that comment about Ann Robinson but was obviously still logged into the backend of your system doing whatever. Anyway – the question holds Adam.

Roy Naim

This is a big topic.

Ya know, when I was younger, and uber sensitive, I never took the teasing well. BUT, my teacher whom I am close to till this day, insisted on teasing me lightly in order for me to “get over” my sensitivity.

It somewhat work then but it took a lot more work over the years from me. It comes from realizing, who cares? From changing perspective on oneself. I am VERY quick in mocking myself now which at times can be dangerous as I can easily tease others but I do it in a loving way.

For example, last night I had to call a girl for the first time and she said she will call me back later because her phone is dying and I might get cut off…I said sure, why don’t you just hang up on me like that….she started cracking up and it was a great conversation later.

I guess it comes with one tonality, and how their personality shines through. Hard to do but a great skill to have.

Sometimes, well, all the time, we must be careful that when we tease, we really teasing and not have some embedded meaning in it which will be felt.

And today, I tease a lot in a fun fashion, especially those who are uber sensitive, not because I want to make them cry, but rather because I want to help them. Is it the best way? Not sure. But seems to work so far as they know who I am.

Best thing about it for me, because of my ability to laugh and tease and just have fun, people tend to listen to me more. I think it was Bandler who once said if he can make someone laugh, he can help them change.


P.S. Not sure what with the uber word today.

Adam Eason

Roy, thanks for your response and your candour, very much appreciated. In the same ilk as your teacher wanting to desensitise you somewhat, I think many people (certainly myself) who were exposed to lots of teasing (giving and taking) due to younger interactions, were similarly desensitised and as a result think nothing of teasing another, or being teased, and perhaps don’t understand why some people find it so offensive and off-putting!
Self-deprecation is a lovely thing and very attractive, I think it shines through well with you and in your work… And the tone… Spot on. nail on the head. I think my point about intention is similar to tone, because the tone will show your true intention.
Amen indeed my friend, A.


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