“Just kidding!” We hear this on the playground as children and in the office as an adult. Usually, it is followed by “Geez, don’t you have a sense of humor?” Over the years, though, I have learned that “just kidding” is one of those phrases that means exactly the opposite of what it says. The speaker wasn’t kidding at all, but only using the phrase to deflect how incredibly insensitive and rude they are actually behaving.
I know this might sound like an over-reaction, but years of work experience have shown me that people who use the “just kidding” (JK) gambit are troublesome to everyone around them. In their wake, they leave a path of anger and hurt and can sow the seeds of their own career destruction, if they don’t learn to modify their behavior.
Say you are talking with a group of friends or co-workers and make some sort of statement. It matters little the substance of the statement because a JK person often needs little impetus to inject their response. Out of the blue, you will hear, “Well, that’s the stupidest things I’ve ever heard” or maybe even uproarious laughter. Then, when you show your disapproval with a look or your words, you will hear, “just kidding.” They weren’t kidding, though, and everyone knows it. What this person is trying to do is deflect the focus from their rude behavior and somehow make it your problem. They are insulting you and then trying to pretend that that wasn’t their goal in the first place. It is a childish attempt at control and manipulation and anyone who exhibits the behavior should be confronted and reprimanded.
In fact, I consider JK behavior to be the primary indicator of someone who is lacking in the social skills so necessary to work and life. If I see someone exhibiting this behavior, I would serious questions working for them or with them in any environment. Life is simply too short to spend your time with ill-mannered, and I would say in some cases, out of control, personalities.
So, do you see yourself or any of your co-workers in this description? I know that I was not always the most socially skilled member of society when I was younger. Even when older, we all have the ability to make social faux pas, but these occurrences should be rare. Take a long hard look at your own behaviors. Do you often find yourself saying “just kidding” or exhibiting the equally annoying “exasperated sigh” as I did at one point in my career? (See The Exasperated Sigh, June 3, 2005) If you do, you need to start banishing this behavior from your life immediately. Do whatever it takes. Snap a rubber band on your wrist whenever you feel inclined, or fine yourself every time you do it. Whatever it takes. If you don’t, the consequences to your career could be dramatic and drastic.
Why ban this behavior? Simply, you are insulting, and perhaps even angering, everyone who is on the receiving end of this behavior. Regardless of how you might try to justify the behavior, you are making enemies at every turn. You are creating a group of people who don’t want to work with you, for you or even around you. You are creating a group of people who won’t care, and perhaps even rejoice when you are fired or marked for layoff. “Just Kidding” might seem such a small issue, but it affects everyone and everything around you. Furthermore, if you think the effects in the office are bad, you can only imagine the damage such behavior does to your relationships with friends and family.
“Just kidding” behavior can arise from a number of points. We can do it when we feel insecure or frightened. It can creep in when our guard is down due to illness or fatigue. Regardless, though, if you want to ensure yourself a happier life and a more productive and successful career, you need to banish the phrase “just kidding”, and its surrogates, from your vocabulary today. If not, I can guarantee that those around you will make their displeasure very clear through their actions. You will drive away those people whom you need the most and destroy your career in the bargain.