I Swear, It’s All Business – Ethics of Cursing At Work

Swearing at work has become a hot topic lately. After all, the power of words can be significant, but they’re just words, right? But what about the unintended consequences of accepting coarse language as a norm — both for the office, and our vocabulary entirely? Like racial epithets, it’s not really the words themselves that are the problem; it’s what’s associated with them, the context, who’s listening, and the habits we’re forming. Some may think of the F-word as just a word, but some of our customers may have a different feeling about it, and with more people addressing the extreme negativity and over-done snark in our modern day, what impact does regular swearing have on our environment?

The Impracticality of Foul Language

It seems most opposition to foul language is from a moralistic approach, but what about the practical side of being well-spoken? With many accepting swear words and their dorky substitutes (“what the heck?” “WTF”) as common lingo, many in our society — including some business prospects — still find common vulgarity foreign and offensive, or just unprofessional. While some esteemed friends of mine are pushing for the devaluing of the F-word for greater expression, many affluent businesses are starting to address the heavy proliferation of cursing in the workplace and its affect on their diverse employee base and customers.

Yeah, But Swearing FEELS Good

Sure, in some speaking engagements and literary works, occasional swearing can spice up the flow, but in most cases, what are we REALLY gaining from swearing? Think about it — you’re at work, and a coworker has a software glitch and yells out, “What the f***?!” How did the employee, you, or anyone else gain from this? Further, what about that prospective client who just walked by with the CEO, unbeknownst to the swearing employee? This is not only an issue of language, but of self-control and awareness. People don’t need to hear outbursts, nor does the language need to be crass, and this is a great common example of swearing’s uselessness. A post from Robby Slaughter recently addressed cursing in the workplace, and his emphasis was on reducing workplace stress to keep employees from cursing. While I agree workplace stress should be minimized, someone who doesn’t regularly curse won’t likely use inappropriate language when stressed. It’s not a part of who they are. It would be one thing if there was something to gain from either coarse language or outbursts, but there really isn’t. There are better ways to handle stress. Further, Robby references an article that claims swearing may be good for you. Again, if swearing or outbursts aren’t akin to how one reacts to stress, it won’t likely be beneficial or natural.

Clean Up That F****** Grammar

For us grammar geeks who like ridding ourselves of superfluous words, see the following line:

“Get the f*** out of here! That game was f****** awesome!”

Better: “Get out of here! That game was awesome!”

Best: “That game was awesome!”

So much cleaner, grammatically, and you could say it to your kid, your grandmother, your buddies, or in a good convo with a prospective client, and no one would ever notice the missing f-bombs. This isn’t about being prudish, but about a pragmatic and simplistic approach — a mindful way of speaking, and an easier way to do things.

The Slip and Slide of Speaking Poorly

A slip of the tongue can be hilarious with the right people, but it can be disastrous in the wrong context. We know we don’t want to curse around kids, the elderly, business prospects, or those who find it generally offensive, so why make it part of our culture? To be cool or accepted? We are creatures of habit, and since we project different personas with different people, why further complicate things with “clean” and “dirty” sides? We talk about being real and transparent. Cleaning up our speech makes us more “real” to everyone. Some believe it to be liberating to dispel the power of foul language. I feel there’s more liberation in not having to watch our mouths around so many. When bad habits are cast aside, we have less to worry about.

As we work to improve our speaking and writing skills — cleaning up the language is a great addition. I ask — is there ANY value to regular cursing and bad habit-forming? I’ve known a few people to give it up… they don’t miss it.