How to handle teasing in a group?

Hi everyone! Today's Reader Reply email is from "C." He asks about a tricky situation - how do you handle being in a group where people use satire and humor that feels hurtful to you?

C writes...

I am writing to enquire about a conflict that I recently have.

In the coming October, I will start my third year in a math degree in [A particular city]. This summer, I have participated in an undergraduate research project with 3 students. (For convenience, I will name them A, B, C.) We have a Messenger group for all sorts of communication. In the 4th week, I neglected A's will to discuss one math problem, and responded with a bad math idea. Subsequently, all of the 3 groupmates displayed satire in front of one, such as expressing wrong ideas deliberately in a discussion. In the supervisor's meeting last week, they together with the supervisor displayed satire.

In the next few days, I apologized to each person individually (including the supervisor) and listed some possible errors I had made. All of them said that nothing had gone wrong. Today, when I went back to school, A and B continued their verbal satire. Then I became too angry and imitated their way of speaking to retaliate. Now, their verbal abuse in the Messenger group became more serious.

I admit that I had done something wrong, but I think that their actions were much worse. Am I being manipulated? Besides leaving the project, are there any other solutions? Thank you for listening to me.


My response....

Hi C,

I think this situation is difficult to offer advice on without knowing the specific individuals involved. I think there are two possibilities here:

1) The group you are in uses satire and biting humor in a friendly way and does not have any ill-will towards you, but then when you become angry towards them they become angry towards you because they feel you are over-reacting. In this scenario, your constant conversations about this and interventions are making the situation worse, because the group thinks that you are "making a big deal out of nothing."

2) The group you are in is trying to bully or harass you, but are trying to avoid getting in trouble by claiming that it is "just a joke." In this scenario, having an authority figure intervene could be helpful.

In order to determine which scenario is most likely, I suggest that you schedule a private meeting with the supervisor (or another trusted person that you respect) to review the messages that are being sent in the Messenger group. The supervisor can help you determine if their messages appear to have ill-will, or if they are simply trying to be humorous.

If their messages are displaying ill-will, then the supervisor should be able to work with you to find a solution.

However, what do you do if the supervisor says that there is no problem?

In that case, I think your goal will be to use this as an opportunity to practice managing your own anger and staying cool under pressure. It's understandable that you would not enjoy the satire, but learning how to regulate your anger and work with people you don't get along with are important professional skills. So I suggest being deliberate about managing your own anger (such as taking a break from the messenger group when you need to, etc.) and avoid the temptation to either get angry or to retaliate through satire of your own - because if you are angry it will be easy for your satire to move from "funny" to "mean."

I wish I had a solution that would allow you to stop the other individuals from using satire, but unfortunately you only get to choose your own actions, not the actions of others. So I think using this as an opportunity to practice patience, professionalism and emotional regulation will be the best solution for you. It might not be a fun experience, but you will be stronger at the end of it, and I hope that will help make it feel worthwhile.

Hope that helps!


Well, that's it for this installment of reader replies. Do you have advice or encouragement for C, too? Leave it in the comments!

And if you have a question of your own, send me an email and you might be the next reader reply 🙂 Until next time!

6 Comments on “How to handle teasing in a group?”

  1. One thing you could try to do in the group is when they are teasing you, is to join in and turn it into self deprecating humour.This can be a quadruple win you get to enjoy the joke you get some control of what’s going on and you get to laugh at yourself (which can be really healthy) and you will probably gain some esteem.Not sure I’m double counting above .Given that though the supervisor joining in is pretty rubbish.The exact justice of the situation is not as important as feeling OK about it though.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with this and the comment about self depreciation. The last thing you want to do is show that you’re emotionally affected by the satire. If they are using it in a bullying manner, then the emotional reaction is exactly what they’re looking for. By furthering their satire in a self depreciating way, but taking it a step further to completely outlandish levels shows that this isn’t something that bothers you, and more importantly leaves them with absolutely no way to follow up with a counter. Continuing with the same satire after you’ve already taken it a step further in a playful way would make them look stupid, and nobody wants that. Eventually, they’ll realise they’re unable to get the desired response from you, regardless of how it actually made you feel.
    Hope this helps!

  3. If this were happening to me, I’d try to change my surroundings. Or, as suggested, I would answer them the same way. Either way, if the way people communicate with you hurts you, don’t tolerate it. This advice is not for a specific person, but for anyone in a similar situation.

  4. “So I think using this as an opportunity to practice patience, professionalism and emotional regulation will be the best solution for you. It might not be a fun experience, but you will be stronger at the end of it, and I hope that will help make it feel worthwhile.”

    I copied that from Dan.

    I do know how it is, when a person or worse a group makes themselves feeling better by harassing and belittling another person, who is mentally and verbally not up to speed to give the correct answers.
    1) Practice patient: seek advise from a professional psychologist or caretaker who takes that person or group and and explains to them what they do.
    2) Practice professionalism and emotional regulation results in => if they don’t understand point 1 use a lawyer who can sort that out by writing a nice letter to the correct person in charge.

    I am 55 years old male and my daughter diagnosed me five years ago as autistic, she was 15. I got an assessment and it confirmed everything. My live would have been easier, if I would have known that I am an autistic person.
    My live was pleasant. I would have used above method 30 years ago if I would have known about my autism.

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