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The Art of Teasing

Active ImageTeasing is fun, but can often be misconstrued. How to tease the right way. Teasing is risky, potentially devastating — and a lot of fun. A well-executed jab creates intimacy almost out of thin air, but when it's misguided or misinterpreted, it can destroy relationships. Teasing relies on a disconnect between words and nonverbal signals: We say something mean and simultaneously undercut it with body language and tone of voice.

Since nonverbal communication is notoriously easy to misconstrue, teasers must proceed with special caution. In a recent study, roommates and other acquaintances were asked to tease each other, and it was founded that those who were teased almost invariably felt more antagonized than the teasers intended. The recipient of the razz felt ridiculed rather than gently prodded. With that in mind, a few guidelines for successful teasing:

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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.

Tease up or 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.

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 and banter.

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.

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