UKC

/ the psychology Banter in the workplace

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Duncan Bourne - on 03 Feb 2018

Not what is or isn't appropriate but how it forms and the reasons behind it. Has anyone done an actual study of the Psychology of banter?

My observation is that there are three types of banter:

1. light-hearted insults between collegues who know each other - so calling someone a knob, bitch, toss-pot, c*nt, d*ck-head etc. usually between collegues on the same scale or a few scales higher (but only if they  share a close workspace ie a van). In environments where there is potential contact with higher management or strangers (ie the public) this is considerably less. There may or may not be a class element too.

2. sexual banter - a lot less common than in previous years but still very common in certain work areas. Mostly observed amongst tight working groups of single sex ie women factory workers or male labourers. Intersexual banter is much reduced (male/female, female/male) but same sex banter is especially rife. Most common seems to be homosexual banter between heterosexual men (I can not comment on what takes place in all female environments as I have no information in that area)

Both the above forms of banter can turn into...

3. escalation banter - This is a competative form of banter that takes place when there are three or more persons present. Two people on their own rarely engage in this type of banter. It usually takes the form of trying to outshock, outgross, or otherwise outdo the other banterist by making increasingly shocking or even taboo statements. Interestingly a third party expressing mild disapproval ("you guys make me sick") causes the extreme banter to escalate further. It seems to shift the emphasis from a competition between x and y to out do each other to a competition between x and y to get the biggest disapproval reaction from z. There is then a danger that such banter can easily over step the mark into verbal bullying of the disapproving party and can lead to serious situations of victimisation. I can thankfully say that this is less likely these days as such practice is highlighted more and mechanisms for reporting are more robust.

I am curious as to the psychology behind this. Is it a form of "antler rattling" show of strength? group bonding gone wild? Thoughts?

Bob Kemp - on 03 Feb 2018
In reply to Duncan Bourne:

I don’t know about psychology but there’s quite a bit of work on this in linguistics. Long time since I studied this but William Labov was a key figure. Some of  3) above is about making competition safe, but it’s also about social bonding and group identity. 

captain paranoia - on 03 Feb 2018
In reply to Duncan Bourne:

1) possibly comes from the taboo on expressing affection; blokes only say 'i love you bruv' when very drunk. So the fact that friends can use insults towards each other shows the level of friendship, since the insults are tolerated. The same terms used by someone outside the friendship group wouldn't be tolerated...

Post edited at 11:28
Duncan Bourne - on 03 Feb 2018
In reply to captain paranoia:

Good point. A sort of counter intuitive bonding thing

Yanis Nayu - on 03 Feb 2018
In reply to Duncan Bourne:

I’m not really sure how you define banter. It seems to have been hijacked as a term used to excuse certain types of harassment. Where I work, banter is used to describe having a laugh, in various ways. I think having a laugh in an inclusive way with colleagues is really important. 

Duncan Bourne - on 03 Feb 2018
In reply to Yanis Nayu:

I define banter as "the playful exchange of teasing remarks". In short as you say having a laugh and I agree it is an important part of bonding in the workplace. However I think the degree to which something is regarded as teasing varies considerably. Not only from one situational context to another but also between individuals. In some instances banter can be both banter and harassment. It rather depends on how it is received by the harassed party. In one instance, from an episode 30 years ago now, a worker (male) was constantly ribbed about being the "boyfriend" of a known prostitue. His response was to poison the tea urn, which was thankfully discovered before anyone got ill. The harasing parties took the view that "they were only having a laugh" while he obviously had a different take on it. It is interesting that they didn't set out to push him to attempted mass murder but that was the result.

felt - on 03 Feb 2018
In reply to Duncan Bourne:

Really first-class, tip-top banter these days is called bants. The rest is just noise.

1
Yanis Nayu - on 03 Feb 2018
In reply to felt:

I think you’ll find it’s called “bantz”...

Yanis Nayu - on 03 Feb 2018
In reply to Duncan Bourne:

Jesus!

felt - on 03 Feb 2018
In reply to Yanis Nayu:

Yes! That's how I spelt it in my initial post, but because of a compulsive nervous tic I checked it and the first dictionary I came across had it as bants, so I deleted and reposted. I do agree, one might imagine that bantz does look better in a La-Z-Boy sorta way, but sometimes it very much does do to do slang all proper and BrEng, strike a light, Guv, &c, so I think disposing of an Americanism is perhaps not the greatest hardship, don't you know?

John Stainforth - on 03 Feb 2018

In reply to ItanPol:

No, I don't think so. Many Americans are more politically correct than we are.

LeeWood - on 04 Feb 2018
In reply to Duncan Bourne:

why the focus on workplace? - the greater tendency for it to get out of hand ?

Hooo - on 04 Feb 2018
In reply to Duncan Bourne:

I work for a small company with a very flat structure - the intern talks direct to the MD.

Among close colleagues we do a a lot of general piss-taking banter, and a lot of the "homosexual' banter too. I don't think it's actually sexual, it's more a peurile sniggering at the bums and willies taboo. Once someone starts it, it spreads.

I was thinking about the acceptability of banter recently, after I got it wrong. I had two colleagues, let's call them Bill and Ben. Bill and I take the piss out of each other regularly, and some of it could sound very critical if you didn't know us. I made a mild comment to Ben, and he approached me later to say he was upset by it. I obviously apologised and didn't do anything similar again, but it made me think about what makes me OK with Bill taking the piss out of me. I respect Bill a lot, but that's not exactly it. I realised that what matters is that I believe Bill respects me. As long as I believe that, then any piss taking is just fun. The problem with Ben is that he doesn't believe I respect him, and so the piss taking is not OK. It then dawned on me that Ben was right. I didn't respect him, or at least I didn't respect his work.

Hooo - on 04 Feb 2018
In reply to Duncan Bourne:

They're lucky they weren't in America, or he would have turned up to work with an assault rifle and a backpack full of ammo.

It sounds like the respect thing that I mentioned in my previous post. He didn't think anyone respected him, and he was probably right. It didn't occur to them that this made the banter into bullying.

DancingOnRock - on 04 Feb 2018
In reply to LeeWood:

Because , if it’s going on in the workplace, you can’t walk away from it if you don’t like it. 

There’s a guy at work who thinks he is hilarious. Unfortunately his personal attacks on various people are completely unwelcome and anything but banter. I’d pick him up on it if I thought he’d realise and change. Unfortunately he’s not the type of guy to admit his mistakes or take into account anyone else’s feelings. He’s tolerated, just, most people find themselves suddenly having something important to do somewhere else and leave the room when he comes in. 

If you can’t tell the difference between banter and personal attacks then you probably shouldn’t attempt the former. 

Duncan Bourne - on 04 Feb 2018
In reply to LeeWood:

Mainly because that is where i have observed it the most. I guess it might be because it is a group of people who spend a lot of time together but are not quite friends (though I have known friends to conduct such banter too). So it is a form of bonding that might not be required amongst people you chose to be with. Also it is a group thing.

Yanis Nayu - on 04 Feb 2018
In reply to Hooo:

I think that sort of piss-taking requires an understanding that the person taking the piss respects the person they’re taking the piss out of. It also requires the person having the piss taken out of them enjoying it. 

The girls at work that I’m really close to absolutely rinse me, but I enjoy it and I know they have a lot of time for me. However, a woman I didn’t particularly like made a snarky remark to me a couple of years ago and it really pissed me off  

 

LeeWood - on 04 Feb 2018
In reply to DancingOnRock:

Comprendo. I believe I've  experienced type 1) & 2) banter at work and between friends - but never 3). I do recall some of the stage 2) stuff getting pretty tedious in repitition. I've also experienced work situations where colleagues lead you to a point of familiarity which is one-sided ie. as long as they are in control - as soon as you venture reciprocal fammiliarity they go all defensive and retreat into their shell ...

I reckon fellas have a constant need to assert their identity as Masculine ... 'just in case you hadn't noticed ...' sort of thing :D

anaeurope - on 05 Feb 2018
In reply to Duncan Bourne:

The thing with banter is that if one doesn't know when to stop or how to be friendly about it, it becomes a problem. 

andrew breckill on 05 Feb 2018
In reply to Duncan Bourne:

I think it depends on the work place and the kind of mindset in it. Where I last worked any kind of sexual banter could get you an HR meeting to discuss. I have worked in factories (long ago) and the women there talked about sex constantly, in the kind of detail and using words that would have a squaddie blushing.

In some of the banter I observed between men in the last place I worked it was basically bullying. No other word for it, dressed up as banter, but reduced to simple bullying.

 

Duncan Bourne - on 05 Feb 2018
In reply to andrew breckill:

As you say it depends on the work place. Part of it is the participation between parties. If one pary is not participating/reciprocating then it is stepping over into harassment & bullying

 

doz generale - on 05 Feb 2018
In reply to Duncan Bourne:

Work place banter is usually harmless but there are times where it's blatant bullying.  For some people it's a power thing. I've worked for over 20 years in various different work environments so have seen this play out time and time again and have been on the receiving end of unwanted banter a few times . I'm now a relatively senior manager so happily float above the banter level. If I spot or hear about anything which is even slightly over the mark  it gets nipped in the bud  as soon as possible. This happens more than you would expect! I've always hated bullies and gossips. It's nice to be able to do something about it.

Columbia753 - on 08 Feb 2018
In reply to Duncan Bourne:

Interesting subject this having suffered and having too give it out on the defence.

Also is it the same the world over but slightly different due to which country your in?

Duncan Bourne - on 08 Feb 2018
In reply to Columbia753:

that's interesting. I hadn't thought of national differences.

 

Not banter exactly but I have often been intrigued by countries where physical contact between heterosexual men (ie hand holding, sitting on each others laps) is not seen as anything out of the ordinary but doing the same with a woman in public is (hand holding etc.).


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