When is it OK to say “rooting for you”?

When appropriate to use "rooting for you"?

Hi Jonathan,

A friend said, “rooting for you”, to me to cheer me up.

Q: How genuine are people usually when they use “rooting for you” to cheer others up?

Should I take it as a polite way to end the conversation, or are they telling you they will stand by me, be there for me, or wholeheartedly support me?

Do you use this phrase just for people you know or anyone?

This is a very complicated question.

This use of “root” is used to mean “to encourage a person or team by cheering or applauding enthusiastically”.

Just looking at that definition, if someone said they were “rooting for you”, you might be offended.

However, the goal of “rooting” is to encourage, motivate, and provide moral support for the person or team.

A team that has lots of people rooting for it (or fewer, but more important people, e.g., family) is likely to perform better.

Psychologically, knowing that we have people supporting us and who are engaged in our efforts to achieve something helps us perform better, deal with the stress levels, etc. in the effort to achieve that thing.

That being said, if one of your teammates who was also playing the game said they were rooting for you, it would sound like the outcome wasn’t important to him, and he wasn’t going to put forth his best effort.

However, if one of your teammates who is injured and cannot play said they were rooting for you, it would be OK.

The point is that “rooting” must be done by someone who is not a participant, cannot participate (or, sometimes, should not participate,) or cannot contribute in some other meaningful way, but for whom the effort and result are important.

When we use the sentence “I’m rooting for you” socially, it should not violate those rules.

It should not be said by someone for whom the effort or result are not important (or who is not close enough to you for you to be particularly important to them.)

It should not be said by someone who could and/or should provide more support than just encouragement and moral support.

Furthermore, merely saying that you are rooting for someone is not the same as actually doing so.

In fact, it can be used to avoid doing so. So using the sentence can be dismissive. Or not.

I’m trying to avoid talking about trust boundaries and psychological barriers – relevant, but complicated.

Some specific situations:

  • If a close friend said this, you might be offended.
  • If a member of your family said this, you would probably be offended. However, the rules change for both of these if the person saying it also gives greater indications of support, like a hug, listening to a long discussion of the difficulties, offers suggestions, etc.
  • If a casual acquaintance, activity companion, coworker, or Facebook-level friend said this, it would probably be OK.
  • If a total stranger said this, you might be confused.

But don’t take these as hard-and-fast rules.

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