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  • Bob Burg

“[Burg] has demonstrated that adding value to people's lives is the way to climb the ladder of financial success.”

~ Fran Tarkenton, Hall of Fame Quarterback and Founder/CEO GoSmallBiz.com

Making A Joke At Someone Else’s Expense

February 4th, 2014 by Bob Burg

Making A Joke At Someone Else's ExpenseAre you about to make a joke at someone else’s expense?

Here’s my suggestion:

First, think about it for a moment…..

Then, wait a bit…..

Think about it some more…..

Now, wait just a bittttt more…..

Now…………………….DON’T DO IT!

Nope, don’t do it. No upside (other than perhaps a fleeting moment of false superiority).

Huge downside, including — but not limited to — hurting another human being’s feelings; making yourself look bad; destroying trust with the target of the joke; losing trust (thus influence) with those who are witness to, or hear about, the insult; and being disliked without a principle-based reason for it.

If you MUST make a joke at someone’s expense, make sure it’s at your expense.

And, remember, if say something to someone that you meant to be harmlessly funny and then find yourself having to say, “I was only kidding” then it probably wasn’t funny in the first place.

Your thoughts?

38 Responses to “Making A Joke At Someone Else’s Expense”
  1. Osnat Bresler said at 8:59 am on

    Thanks Bob! I feel very strongly about this issue. I think that your message should be taught and repeated over and over to adults as well as to children from a very young age. Even young children get a thrill out of laughing at someone else`s expense….and if they are discouraged from day one, then we will eventually have a generation of mature adults who do not “joke friends into enemies”, making life a little bit better for us all…

  2. Bob Burg said at 10:54 am on

    Osnat: Thank you. Very wise words, my friend. Wouldn’t that be great. Hopefully, more and more people will spread that message!

  3. Carla Holness said at 9:00 am on

    Thanks for this article. Something to think about in our every day interactions with people.


  4. Bob Burg said at 10:52 am on

    Carla: Thank you. Indeed!

  5. Kumar Gauraw said at 11:15 am on

    Brilliant steps Bob! Love it!
    I am going to print it in multiple copies and place it everywhere and hand it over to a few I care about 🙂

    Warm Regards,

  6. Anita Casalina said at 11:37 am on

    I love your list of “checkpoints”! Joking in a way that hurts another person creates a negative feeling in any interaction. And with so many other choices for getting points across, why do it at all?
    Thanks for having a big heart, Bob!

  7. Donna DeGutis said at 12:25 pm on

    Great article Bob. Thank you for this share. Yes, the don’t do it part is the best advice.

  8. Bob Burg said at 12:44 pm on

    Donna: Thank you. Yep, that Doctor’s oath about “first, do not harm” fits this situation, as well, doesn’t it? 🙂

  9. Bob Burg said at 12:30 pm on

    Kumar: Thank you for that kind feedback!

  10. Bob Burg said at 12:30 pm on

    Anita: 🙂 Thank you! Yes, I agree with your insights. Thank you!

  11. Yoav said at 12:46 pm on

    Absolutely correct

    It’s very hard to build relationships and very easy to ruin them.

    I wish I knew this specific piece of advice when I was younger. For some reason young people value being smart-asses more than they value relationships – BIG MISTAKE.

  12. Mitch Jackson said at 12:48 pm on

    But there’s just so much material out there 🙂

    Seriously, great advice that we just discussed with our 14 year old son over the weekend. As always, appreciate the reminder.

  13. Bob Burg said at 1:13 pm on

    Yoav: Thank you. Unfortunately, there are also too many adults who hold a similar set of values as the young people you are referring to.

  14. Bob Burg said at 1:14 pm on

    Mitch: Your children are very fortunate to have you and Mrs. Jackson as Parents!

  15. Dixie said at 9:39 pm on

    I so appreciate this! I have so many clients who can trace their “walls” back to something they were “ribbed” about as kids. Although some have been the target of even more cruel outright bullying, most of them believe that the other person was only joking, but even so, they still carry the belief that there was some truth in the statements and some harm meant.

    Regardless of the stated intention, teasing is never “just teasing” when the words are cruel. And cruel words are NEVER harmless or justifiable.

    Thank you for giving such easy to follow advice. Hope your readers take it truly to heart.

  16. Bob Burg said at 7:05 am on

    Dixie: WOW – thank you for sharing such powerful insights!

  17. Robert Putt said at 9:06 am on

    Nice article Bob. I know someone who is a professional trainer and I cringe when they do this. I have tried to casually suggest a change in their approach but so far they don’t get it. I just have to keep trying.

  18. Bob Burg said at 9:33 am on

    Robert: Thank you. And, indeed, unfortunately, far too many people do this and really don’t “get” how counterproductive it is. Can you approach them at a time where there is time to sit down and discuss in an unhurried environment, perhaps using an “I-message” and obtaining their “permission” to discuss something that “I (you) feel is very important.” Assuming that takes place, look for something in their belief system or way of viewing the world that suggests the “emotional payoff” to them for doing this. Then, if you can share where there will be a bigger emotional payoff for them not to do this, perhaps that will help. You might also want to consider printing out my original post (and, perhaps even the very insightful reader responses below) to share with them for third-party validation. Please let us know what happens.

  19. Bill Zahn said at 9:34 am on

    Great post! I believe that making a joke at anyone’s expense is damaging. I also believe that jokes at your own expense are particularly damaging to your ego. While some level of modesty is great and helps your audience relate to you, too much self-deprecation can be limiting.

  20. Bob Burg said at 9:40 am on

    Bill: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

  21. Edie Galley said at 11:32 am on

    This is one of my favorites from your wisdom filled posts Bob! One of the things we often overlook in our close personal relationships too. Because we know a person so well and are aware of their quirks we often joke about them thinking it is harmless. Yet it is one of the most harmful things because it comes from the very people we know love us the most.

  22. Bob Burg said at 11:36 am on

    Edie: Thank you for your always kind and thoughtful comments! Terrific point, as well, and greatly appreciated!

  23. Bill Ellis said at 12:01 pm on

    I believe we all are guilty of this to some degree but this is an especially terrific reminder for someone (me!) who has been very prone to do exactly this through the years…actually still am just much less frequently thank goodness.
    I have also come to understand that such behavior is typically a more clear indicator that the one doing the ‘teasing’ is somehow unhappy with themselves.
    Thank you Bob – another powerful post.

  24. Bill Lynch said at 12:36 pm on

    I did 360 degree feedback with my team about 10 years ago and was not pleased to hear that I was in the habit of making fun of them with my sarcastic sense of humor. Great lesson for me to learn if painful. Hopefully I am no longer guilty of this inexcusable trait.

  25. Bob Burg said at 1:16 pm on

    Bill Ellis: Thank you. I appreciate your thoughts and your candor. Knowing you as I do now it’s difficult to even imagine that you ever did that. A true credit to you in terms of the work you have done!

  26. Bob Burg said at 1:18 pm on

    Bill Lynch: Same as I said to Bill E. above. Difficult to believe you ever did that. Kudos to you for breaking that habit after the 360! Speaks volumes about you!

  27. What a great post… I am always telling clients the same thing… not only that I take it one step further and say Don’t post jokes on your FB walls for one reason what we may deem funny someone else might not and what we may find funny here in the US a client in China might not so why even go there. Having grown up multi- culturally I learned early on the differences in cultural joke mis understandings if you will. So from my perspective and our new technology of Social Media land beyond just communication of Language we must be aware of what we are posting on our Social Media platforms in the form of jokes. What we might find to be silly and funny somebody else might find to be totally offensive. Thanks for another fabulous post Bob Burg. Great topic.

  28. Bob Burg said at 12:08 pm on

    Carly: Thank you. You brought another level to the discussion. I appreciate you sharing that with us!

  29. Chris said at 4:09 am on

    I think that if you’re smart enough, you’d be able to make jokes that would put people in a better position, jokes that would do them good, jokes that would benefit. Also, you really show self-empowerment when you’re able to make jokes about yourself. This shows that you’re not intoxicated with your own ego.

  30. Bob Burg said at 6:29 am on

    Chris: Terrific comments! Right on!

  31. Robyn said at 10:07 pm on

    Making a joke at someone else’s expense is akin to bullying. Inside jokes, snide, sarcastic and passive aggressive remarks hit their mark more times than not. It reveals more about the jokester than the victim.

  32. Bob Burg said at 7:24 am on

    Robyn: Well-said and agreed!

  33. David said at 10:16 pm on

    Found this little gem after I had a little argument with a friend. Someone made a joke at my (and another guy) expense and my friend thought it was funny or at least witty. I told him that it wasn’t much fun at all, not for me or the other target. His argument was simple, I wasn’t allowed to think the guy making the joke was being offensive simply because it was a joke on my expense and “all comedy is about someone suffering”. Then he claimed I was the one suffering and it was funny anyway.

    The problem with his reasoning was that this apparently was a case of comedy or something. Many comedy sketches and such are about someone getting hurt or a serious issue, but this was everyday life. So I told him, if you make a joke, and someone gets hurt by the joke directly, then it’s not a joke. It’s a flat out insult.

    It was annoying to argue cause he refused to agree that it was meant as an insult to me, while perhaps having some comedic value to everyone else. He went on to say that many of the jokes in series such as the Big Bang Theory were about someone having trouble, I told him that it’s a sketch or an act, it’s not the same. That’s where the quote originates, about comedy sketches.

    “Comedy is tragedy plus time”

    That’s the quote he misused and misunderstood. He thought it meant that a joke could be made at someones expense with no trouble at all. Guess that explains why he just laughed at me one time when we were kids and I hit my head so hard I almost fainted and got a concussion…

    Like Robyn said, many cases of bullying stem from such a behavior from the surroundings. Someone gets made fun of and gets hurt, the rest laughs.

  34. Bob Burg said at 7:07 am on

    David: Thank you for sharing with us. I’m very sorry that you had to experience that. And, based on what you wrote, your reasoning is totally correct and the other person’s was incorrect. Unfortunately, there are far too many that think that way. At this time, that’s where they are in their growth and hopefully will eventually grow in a more positive and wise direction and come to understand. Again, thank you for sharing with us.

  35. Desirae said at 7:48 pm on

    Thanks Bob Burg. I have been experiencing someone laughing and trying to embarrass me. It has been going on for a while and it was starting to hurt me. I wasn’t sure if what they were doing was wrong or if am I just to sensitive. Reading your post made me realize I shouldn’t let these bullies make me doubt myself.

  36. Lynn said at 12:22 pm on

    Thank you SO much for posting this. I find this type of joking so very hurtful. I have a friend who does it to me now and then and it hurts me on so many levels.

  37. Lucy said at 8:38 am on

    Excellent information from people who have been there. I come to a conclusion that people who make jokes at some one else’s expense are short on warmth and love and are terribly insecure as well as unhappy.

  38. Siena said at 8:39 pm on

    After a very upsetting incident in a class setting recently I have been having trouble coming to terms with this exact situation. Another member of class made me feel very uncomfortable…..with what was in her mind a very innocent comment/joke about me and another student. I took the comment personally and instantly in my own defense called her a bully. I considered her comment an effort to promote her self importance at my expense…..I felt humiliated. The instant the word bully left my lips I felt I had wronged her….. and later ….over a period of time tried to apologize for calling her a bully.
    I apologised to her for my action and tried to explain why I reacted the way I did but she denied having any false motive and now won’t speak to me.
    It has resulted in a friendship of 4 people being dissolved.
    In hindsight and after reading your piece Bob I now realize I was not in the wrong. I had every right to feel indignant ….. hurt at the very least.
    I have to face her again in class in a week’s time so have a different view of the situation now.

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