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.