What's Wrong with "Just Kidding?"

Two Women Talking

Sometimes showing up considerate and kind is more about knowing what not to say, rather than what to say.  Being mindful in conversation takes a conscious effort – and a bit of practice. Without it, you may find yourself falling victim to your own attempt at humor or a joke.

When you find yourself saying, “I’m only kidding,” or “Just joking around with you,” you’ve likely caught yourself in an error.  Or it could be for a number of other reasons:

  • You might be trying too hard to make a good impression and said something bordering on offensive.
  • You might be insecure and have made an attempt at humor, which came off as sarcastic.
  • You might be showing some passive aggressive behaviors and trying to give yourself a “pass” for being insincere, impolite, or mean.  
  • You didn’t realize until too late that you’d said something at another’s expense and didn’t know what to do.

Was that an Insult?

The phrase “Just kidding” is many times preceded by an insult of some type.  Even when it isn’t, you may leave people wondering if it was.

At a dinner one evening, a friend asked me, “Candace, why don’t you tell us what we’re doing wrong while we’re eating.  After all, you’re the etiquette expert.”

I must have given him a questioning look because he then said, “Oh, just teasing you.”  I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d been made fun of or put down, or if he was self-conscious about how he might look to others.

My comment at the time was, “I’m off duty!” and everyone laughed.   But, secretly, I wondered.

An alternative to attempting to ignore a potential, or blatant, insult is to inject honesty.  When someone throws out a perceived insult and then brushes it off the conversation table with, “Hey, I’m just kidding,” refrain from laughing, ignoring, or harboring.

Instead, respond sincerely with, “John, I experience that hurtfully,” or “You hurt my feelings just now.”  Then stop and don’t say any more.  You’ve claimed your personal power and expressed yourself in an honest, mannerly way.

When Intentions are Disguised

Self-deprecating humor has its place in some light-hearted conversations.  But when followed with a "Just kidding," the intention behind it can be disguised and confusion ensues.

Someone once said to me, “I’m such an absolute idiot to think someone would help me out with this!” and then he quickly dismissed the hidden request with, “Hey, I’m only kidding.  I know you wouldn’t mind helping me out if I just ask, right?” 

A comment and followup like this makes you feel uncomfortable because the humor has left the self-deprecation.  Instead, you feel manipulated, and just confused enough to fall for it.

Used correctly, self-deprecating humor makes people smile or laugh, and leaves no room for confusion.

"Just Kidding" Isn't Very Funny

Making others smile or laugh is a gift.  But using humor in the desire to be a good conversationalist should be attempted with care.  When humor is made at the expense of someone else, and when the speaker hasn’t considered the audience or the situation, trouble is on the horizon.

Also, it’s wise to be aware that “inside” jokes have their place, but if used elsewhere, you may come across as not only insensitive, but sarcastic.  Especially if you close with, “Hey, I’m just kidding.  I shouldn’t have brought the subject up.”

Some might argue that the problem is with thin-skinned listeners and that the issue isn’t really about what you’ve said; rather it’s about what they’ve heard. 

However, in making choices to be yourself, realizing that you have the ability to exercise discretion, maybe the truth is that you shouldn’t have made the statement in the first place.  There are some sentences and phrases that should be avoided and “Hey, I’m only kidding,” is one of them.

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