Whether it’s your first day on the job, or you’re celebrating five years with a company, it’s important to know the culture of the organization, and how your language is perceived by workplace colleagues and clients. But is cursing in the office ever OK?
Sharon Schweitzer, an international business etiquette expert, author, and the founder of Access to Culture, says consider these eight tips before deciding if you can loosen your profanity filter at work.
- Know your organizational culture. Profanity in the workplace is a matter of culture. It may vary based on policy, both written and unwritten; as well as leadership. Observe and listen carefully. It may be one hundred percent unprofessional in some offices, while other offices may have cursing embedded in their conduct.
- Nothing is a secret. Even after hours, when teammates are relaxing, everyone is enjoying a drink casually and having a good time, watch your mouth. Remember, en vino veritas translates to ‘in wine there is truth.’ Comments made will be shared with the powers that be. An after hours event is just an extension of the professional work day.
- Cursing colleagues are perceived as less intelligent. Based on current research, although profanity doesn’t appear to be an indicator of intelligence level at this time, people still perceive colleagues who curse more negatively. Although there may not be a proven correlation between profanity use and intellect, it’s a matter of perception. Word choice can be a delicate task when working with a team that curses. Using emotional words that are profane or vulgar creates an emotional response in teammates. When you refrain from cursing, you are perceived as more articulate, calm, mature, educated, pleasant, professional, and refined. Most vulgar language is used as a placeholder or as slang substituting proper vocabulary. In other words, it’s unnecessary.
- Keep it in check 24/7. In U.S. culture, whether you are a manager or an intern, lead by example. As a coworker who doesn’t curse, leadership will notice and may invite you to after hours events to act as an ambassador for the organization. It can’t hurt to lean towards a more professional and formal presentation of yourself.
- Be a brand ambassador with customers. Clients listen and wonder if they can take you in the board room with them. Will you embarrass them in front of their CEO? Their board? When you curse when representing your own organization, you’ll do worse when representing them. Remember to embody the brands at their highest and best!
- Control your emotional reactions. Profanity is used when people become upset and feel the need to reclaim power over a conversation. Respond, don’t react. Responding is listening to what was said, formulating an articulate answer, and responding accordingly. Reacting is your ego trying to gain control of the situation. Quell your urge to lash out. Rather, collect yourself and respond professionally to save the trouble. Responding after active listening also helps build trust through open and nonjudgmental communication.
- You’re human; it might slip. Mistakes happen. The more important part is how you handle it afterward. Some people opt for levity and brushing it off lightly. You can never go wrong with being humble and owning up to your faults. Apologize with a sincere, ‘please forgive me’ or ‘excuse my potty mouth – it slipped.’ Being genuine and using levity in your response leads to audience forgiveness.
- Follow the lead, but use discretion. When in doubt, mirror and match the appropriate behavior of leadership. This is works when seeking to fit into organizational culture. Gauge your behavior on spectrums of personal comfort and office culture. Supervisors set the tone and are the leaders of the environment. Stay within your comfort zone. Be a model of behavior. In times of stress, demonstrate integrity with carefully chosen language.