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In my situation, I am dating someone who is the typical class-clown type and enjoys being funny and making jokes. Sometimes our coworkers (we met at work) tease him and I'll join in. Most of the time it is all in good fun. But I noticed recently that it feels like I'm ragging on him all the time for things that aren't always good-natured teasing. He has expressed that sometimes I make fun of him when he isn't in the mood, or bring up unrelated things in the joke that makes it no longer funny.

There are a lot of resources online for how to respond to bullying and teasing. However, I don't see resources for people who would like to learn to stop teasing their friends and family.

We have already discussed it(it being the problem: me teasing him is not always nice) between us. He told me that he felt upset over a particular joke. I felt bad that I had hurt his feelings and asked him what I can do to not hurt his feelings again. He described other times when he wasn't in the mood for joking and I realized that while I could tell he wasn't 100% having fun, I didn't pick up that I was directly affecting him at the time. This was how I realized that I don't know how to prevent it going forward. I don't know how to tell when I am being hurtful because he admitted he is the type to bottle it up for awhile before telling me. He also told me that 90% of the time, joking and teasing doesn't bother him.

When I say I feel like I'm ragging on him all the time, I mean that half an hour after a conversation or exchange, I'll feel a little bad about the things I've said or brought up, but I'm not sure if it affected him and am belatedly realizing they might have been mean.

In reflecting on past experiences where I was notified after the fact, I observe the following:

  • The person being teased argued the premise of what they were being teased about (ie: "The reasons behind -- are --")

  • The person being teased seemed frustrated about the other activity the group was engaged in (hiking etc)

  • The person teasing was more engaged with other people doing the teasing than the person being teased

From these notes I gather that if the person being teased isn't laughing along and is redirecting the conversation in any way, that should be a Big Red Flag. Other indications of Big Red Flags would be very helpful to me.

How can I recognize that I am teasing someone too much without verbal feedback from that person?
In a conversation with 2 or more people where teasing is normal, what non-verbal cues can I look out for that the teasing in that moment is unwelcome?

If you have experience being teased where you were hurt or uncomfortable or know how someone felt during such an episode, I believe answers to the following questions could be beneficial in a well-rounded answer: What kinds of ways have you shown that you were uncomfortable? What things did you do to try to suppress your uncomfortable feelings that may have let the other party know you were uncomfortable (if they were unaware)?

  • "I realized that while I could tell he wasn't 100% having fun, I didn't pick up that I was directly affecting him at the time" - do you mean, even at the time you could tell he wasn't 100% into it, but you thought it wasn't hurting him? Or did you not realize he wasn't totally into it until he mentioned it? (The first would mean that you can recognize some signs, if so that's a good starting point!) – Em C Dec 13 '17 at 19:16
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    The answer to how to stop is "just stop". That doesn't have much to do with interpersonal skills. I'd suggest editing that part out and focusing on how to tell when you've upset someone, since that we can probably help with (at least I'm assuming questions about reading body language and other non-verbal signals is on topic here, not too sure about that). There may be another question here of how to respond to teasing when you don't want to join in nor make the person teasing uncomfortable. – NotThatGuy Dec 13 '17 at 19:24
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    In reply to Em C, that specific example he told me about was when we were out doing a lot of hiking. So by not being 100% having fun, it was more like I thought "oh he's just tired" and not "oh the joking around is bothering him." In response to NotThatGuy, I think you have a very valid point. I think that since the person in question did not request I stop entirely, but that I be more mindful, a more appropriate question would address how to read non-verbal signals and a situation properly. – anon Dec 13 '17 at 20:07
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    Thanks for the update! Just FYI, if you want to ping users in comments you have to put an "@" before their name, I just happened to check back here :) – Em C Dec 13 '17 at 21:05
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    If you feel compelled to ask, you're probably already teasing too much. – user1618 Dec 14 '17 at 18:57

11 Answers 11

43

You ask,

How can I recognize that I am teasing someone without verbal feedback from that person?

and

what non-verbal cues can I look out for that the teasing in that moment is unwelcome?

Since you can't use the persons words or tone of voice to discern if they are uncomfortable, that leaves you with body language.

In the book "What Every BODY Is Saying" by Joe Navarro (he worked for the FBI interpreting body language), Joe makes a big point that when reading body language you want to watch for the changes in someone's body language. So for example, if the person suddenly stops laughing that's a good sign that they no longer find the joking funny.

Other things you could look for:

  • A smile that turns to a frown.

  • Large movements with the arms or hands suddenly becoming small movements. When people get uncomfortable they limit their movement or stop moving altogether so that they draw less attention to themselves.

  • Person stops making as much eye contact. This is a good sign that they are pulling away from the conversation mentally and focusing on their own thoughts.

  • Person starts pointing their feet or body away from you. People typically do this one when they want to leave a situation or end a conversation.

I really recommend his book. I've read it multiple times, and you can get so much info from such a small book.

For some quicker reading you could see this site.


Bellow is my original answer to the original question.

Original Answer

How do I stop teasing someone I love?

Simply stop telling jokes about that person.

If you are going to say something because you: A) think it is funny, and B) it is going to be about the person you don't want to tease,

then don't say it.

Dr Jordan Peterson once said "don't practice what you don't want to become." (paraphrased) The reverse is true as well if you want to become something you will need to practice.

It is hard work changing your nature. So if you mess up don't beat yourself up just tell you self specific ways you will behave differently if that situation rises again (that's practicing in your mind) and watch out for the next time.

If are worried you will make some mistakes and tease some more on accident then talk to your friend and tell him what you are doing to change, and tell him you welcome him to tell you if you mess up, because you value him and want to change so that you don't tease so much.

Final note, you may find that it is easier to stop teasing every one all together than to stop teasing just one person.

Good luck!

  • The feet and arms are HUGE tells that someone is uninterested. When feet are pointing open they're interested. If feet are pointing closed or away, they're not interested. And if the arms start to cross or come closer to the body, that's a big tell too. Any crossed body part is a sign they're not interested. (This is especially true when flirting, FYI - if you see that, change tactics quick! Also useful in business... and any human-human interaction really!!) – corsiKa Dec 14 '17 at 16:37
  • @corsiKa That hasn't been my experience at all. People point their feet closed/away for a variety of reasons, and the same is true for arm-crossing. It doesn't always mean they're not interested. I often cross my arms because my arms are tired, or because I'm thinking a lot about what the other person is saying, or in some cases just because I'm cold! – Pauan Dec 15 '17 at 2:50
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    context matters many people cross their arms when they get cold. It doesn't mean they are trying to keep you out or pull away. It means they are cold. Interestingly when my wife feels threatened she starts to shiver. I asked her why once and she said she was feeling cold. I looked it up and it is actually a relatively common phenomenon to feel cold when you feel threatened. – Dan Anderson Dec 15 '17 at 15:34
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    The thing is body language is just a hint to what may be going on. (sometimes a strong hint.) if you want to really know it is usually best to just ask. – Dan Anderson Dec 15 '17 at 15:34
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    "Person stops making as much eye contact. This is a good sign that they are pulling away from the conversation mentally and focusing on their own thoughts." - I wish people would stop treating this as universal truth. I'm autistic; making "normal" eye contact requires conscious effort that distracts from listening to what the other person is saying. I listen best when I'm staring at a wall and fidgeting with a pen or something. So when dealing with people who assume eye contact = attention, I have to choose between pretending to pay attention and actually doing so. – Geoffrey Brent Dec 15 '17 at 23:58
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I've been in your shoes before (and his). As someone who has overstepped their boundries and hurt someone unintentionally, I want to provide you with the options I've found.

First, keep in mind everyone is different. Your teasing might be fine with one person, but not fine with the next. You aren't necessarily a bully for that, but now that it's been communicated, it does need to be addressed. From what I've learned, you have two main options.

  1. Learn how to identify signals that they aren't receiving your teasing as being playful.

If your partner says it doesn't bother him all the time, maybe you can talk to him about trying to achieve #1. As a general note, some people are better at showing/hiding their emotions and there's really no way to guarantee that you will be able to pick up on someones cues of being upset.

The best way to approach this is if you can get him on board to try and help you help him. If you want to try this, I'd approach him by saying:

Hey, I really haven't meant to hurt your feelings - I just had a hard time recognizing that you were becoming upset. If myself or anyone else ever oversteps, would you be able to let me know somehow?

While in groups settings, it might be preferable for him to have some kind of 'cue' to you that he's uncomfortable with the jokes (maybe they're even coming from other people). Whether it's a text, a 'look', etc., you can help move the conversation to another topic and take away from the unwanted attention he's receiving from yourself or others.

  1. Cut down on this behavior until you aren't performing it anymore at all around the people who take it personally.

If your partner is bothered more often than not, I'd suggest focusing on #2. When you overstep playfulness and say something that's rubbed him the wrong way, apologize and say you're working on it. Continue to work on it by being more aware of the things you're saying.

It's easy to let teasing/playfulness get out of hand sometimes. Practicing this exercise can help you beyond just this relationship, but can also help to ensure your teasing never oversteps in your other friendships as well.

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    @Tinkeringbell - this is the only answer that is: "some people are better at showing/hiding their emotions and there's really no way to guarantee that you will be able to pick up on someones cues of being upset." – anongoodnurse Dec 13 '17 at 20:37
  • @anongoodnurse Oh, I just looked at timestamps and mass copy-pasted a comment! :) – Tinkeringbell Dec 13 '17 at 20:38
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Body language is a big key.

If he stiffens, if his jokes become more over the top, if they become more frequent, if they start to get a bite to them.... All red flags.

Look for the facial expressions: Are the eyes narrowing? is there a tightness in the corner of his mouth? Do smiles seem forced? Is he leaning back? Dropping his shoulders, looking down?

I'm the "funny guy" myself, so these are things I do.

Also, look for the humor itself to take a mean term, or darken from a silly to cynical tone.

7

I feel for both of you. There can sometimes be a fine line between friendly ribbing and something more hurtful; I've been on both sides of this line, as both the teaser and the teasee. Luckily, I think you're off to a great start by having openly communicated about it.

Since you have already had a conversation with your boyfriend about this, you have the opportunity to explicitly enlist his help. I agree with watching his body language (stiff posture, a smile that doesn't reach the eyes, body "hugging" type stance rather than something more open, etc.) but in case you miss these subtler signs you could agree on an unambiguous signal that he is uncomfortable. This signal should help you get a handle on his limits more quickly, since there won't be as much guess-work, and may also reduce some of the anxiety about these situations, since you both will know that you have a mechanism in place for making sure they don't get out of hand.

To do this you will need to have another conversation. Explain to him what you've told us: that you feel bad about this and don't want to cross the line anymore. You can also tell him that you're working on ways of recognizing when he might not be comfortable. Ask him if he knows of any "tells" that might help you with this, and ask him if you could set up a deliberate signal of some sort, just in case you miss these signs as you're learning.

The signal could be a gesture, like tugging on an ear, or working a particular phrase into the conversation, like "my Mama always says". Just make sure whatever it is isn't likely to happen spontaneously (not a habitual gesture or expression) and that it's something you can do comfortably/naturally.

To help him feel more comfortable using the signal, and to help you not feel too chastised by it, you can frame it as a secret "SOS" between the two of you, rather than as him crying Uncle. It can be used when other people are making him uncomfortable, as well as when it's something you say, so that you can help change the subject, and you can use it, too, in situations where you're uncomfortable for any reason—or are just tired out and want to gracefully exit a social setting. Once you're both comfortable with it, the signal can function like a friendlier, clearer version of the familiar relationship kick-under-the-table/nudge-in-the-ribs.

5

If you don't know when or about what is ok to tease him the, as yourself suggested, don't do it.

I speak for myself when I say that sometimes we don't really mind about jokes and teasing, but if it comes from our special one it may be hurtful because we expect that person to be on our side. We don't expect (nor want) them to make fun of us. Maybe its the same for the guy you're dating.

I think the best solution is to not tease him at all and stand by his side when he is being teased by others.

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    While I find this information helpful because it gives me insight as to why he feels hurt when I tease, I have already recognized that I would like to stop. 'Don't do it' suggests that I can clearly recognize that the words coming out of my mouth are teasing, and I can't. A more helpful answer might describe the difference between an environment where people are telling jokes, or telling jokes at someone's expense. Or describe what kinds of things I can say after realizing I have teased to help defuse the situation and backtrack so the other person realizes I didn't intend to hurt them. – anon Dec 13 '17 at 18:44
  • Hi @Guyswhotypesfast! The question has been edited to focus a bit more on the IPS part (How to recognize that the other person isn't appreciating the teasing at that moment) instead of the 'how to stop'. You might want to take a look at your answer to see it it's still applicable. – Tinkeringbell Dec 13 '17 at 20:35
  • @anon If a joke is about a person who is present, it is teasing. There are contexts where teasing is fine -- some people like teasing each other a lot to have fun -- but it is always teasing to tell a joke about someone present. – Nathan Hinchey Dec 14 '17 at 4:08
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The first answer, looking at body language, is right on spot. It takes some training to learn to observe when your partner is uncomfortable, and you have barely started. Keep paying attention, because what you will learn will be of use in many situations.

I would, as a rule, not laugh with others at my partner, unless he clearly started it or wanted to encourage it.

You can also agree with him on a secret signal that he could give you when he wants you to stop. Be sure to pay enough attention to notice it and to stop your teasing immediately. Be careful not to give away that he signaled you.

2

Stop teasing him. Yes, completely.

You already say that you've done it in spite of detecting his discomfort ("...I realized that while I could tell he wasn't 100% having fun..."). This is not a matter of recognizing when he's uncomfortable. You've crossed the line more than once, and now it will be too easy to let it happen again. So it's time to just stop doing it at all. Additionally, having crossed the line before likely means that none of it is fun for your friend anymore.

You might start teasing him without realizing it sometimes since you're already in the habit. As soon as you realize it, stop, walk away, and maybe even apologize in private for it and make it clear that you're trying to stop.

1

Well, this says it all:

How can I recognize that I am teasing someone without verbal feedback from that person?

Without verbal feedback, you can assume you are engaging in an activity the person does not care to join. So your question is more about how much fun you can have at his expense without exhausting your credit line.

Now apparently you value him being a good sport. Finding out just how much of a good sport is like in that fairy tail about the never-ending yarn or the never-ending jug. If you go looking for the end, you'll find it soon enough and wish you didn't.

So at least if there are other qualities about him that you appreciate, my suggestion would be to stop when he does. And in particular be careful about joining in with a mob ribbing him. You don't want to excel as the worst of the mob.

1

Use "we"

OP, I have this exact same problem, and I've tried reading body language and other cues but I always forget in the heat of the moment. Self-censorship requires too much presence of mind to work all the time.

Instead of trying to censor yourself, try to shift your attitude, just slightly. Maybe you have a mindset that the purpose of your little jokes is to increase your own popularity by depicting yourself as a funny person. It is actually a little more complicated than that. "Ragging on each other" is a bonding ritual; it increases closeness when you can say something derogatory that you also accept about yourselves. But it has to be something shared, or all it does it highlight an area where you are different.

So, here's the small attitude change. Don't use "you." Use "we." Whenever you think of something kind of mean but funny, try it out as a "we" statement. For example,

Instead of

[Sitting down to a big meal] Oh my god, you are such a pig!

Try

[Sitting down to a big meal] Oh my god, we are such pigs!

That way it is not you criticizing him, it is you saying that you're both "OK" despite being pigs.

And if "we" doesn't fit in a particular situation, you're probably about to say something rude, so just don't say anything.

1

For some people, a defined signal works. It is no longer a body language clue/hint, it is a direct signal this person sends to you.

From what I view, the other person does not mind your teasing in general. It is specific times when they are "not in the mood". Suggest that you agree on a specific signal they send towards you when this is the case. You will know it, other people need not. It could be a hand gesture, a little word in a sentence, a specific glance.

Signals of this kind work in other situations, so I believe that it could work here as well.

-2

Edit: the question now has "too much" in it, which makes this answer a bit out of date. But I do stand by my definition of teasing.


I think a side to this that hasn't been sufficiently addressed in other comments is that making a joke about a person who is present is always teasing. Teasing is not necessarily bad: a lot of people have fun being teased.

If the question is just this:

How can I recognize that I am teasing someone

then the answer is this:

If you are telling a joke about someone who is present, you are teasing them.

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    too much is a key part of the question. Some (most)? people would find being on the receiving end of a bit of teasing harmless and funny, but too much would turn to being hurtful. – muru Dec 14 '17 at 8:07
  • I don't agree that all jokes are teasing. You could make a joke about someone present which points out a positive feature, such as a joking reference to how good they are at golf. – barbecue Dec 14 '17 at 21:59
  • @muru The "too much" was added after I answered. (You can see the edit history). It becomes a VERY different question with that edit. – Nathan Hinchey Feb 16 '18 at 20:37
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    It was added in the third revision made on December 13 at 20:32. This answer was posted on December 14 at 4:13, nearly 8 hours after that edit. – muru Feb 16 '18 at 23:49
  • Oh, the edit you're talking about is to the title of the question! I was referring to the bolded text of the question. Now I see it. My bad. – Nathan Hinchey Feb 20 '18 at 21:44

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