These days, you’ll hear a lot of advice about how authenticity can lead to career success. But, what if your authentic self is a foul-mouthed maverick? Are there justifiable reasons to curse at the office?
An important #[email protected]&%*! disclaimer
Before you utter another word, it’s critical to understand that a tolerant attitude toward cursing does not sanction personal attacks, sexual harassment, discrimination, or hate speech like racism, sexism, or any other -isms.
If you can’t grasp this distinction, you’re not ready for workplace profanity.
This is a matter of personal fraking opinion
There’s no right and wrong in this debate. You are the master of your mind and your mouth, as well as what comes out of it. What you can’t control is how other people will react to what you say.
There’s also no cultural consensus about what counts as curse words. As comedian George Carlin’s said in his famous Seven Dirty Words bit, “you have to say them to find out which ones they are.” Even the FCC was ordered to stop fining TV broadcasters for verbal obscenities in 2012 and no longer publishes a definitive list of banned words.
Consider your <expletive suppressed> motivation
Before you sling a swear word, think about why you want to curse. If you hope to inject humor into a situation, proceed, but with caution. If you want to vent anger, think about whether you’d be better off dragging a close colleague into a private space before letting the curses fly. If your aim is to wound someone with your words, go for a walk or call your therapist.
Context bleeping matters
A word or phrase that doesn’t bother you might offend someone else. What makes one person laugh may cause another person to report you to HR. What passes for congenial conversation in foulmouthed Ohio might scandalize someone living in curse-adverse Washington state.
This variability doesn’t mean you should avoid every word that could possibly offend. Don’t let one fuddy duddy’s anti-cursing stance neuter your self expression. Yet, don’t use uncalled-for profanity just to get a rise out of your coworkers. That’s rude and unfriendly, and borders on harassment.
Bad language can be [redacted] beneficial
If you never curse, you could be causing yourself more harm than good. Because humans have wired our brains to link taboo words to strong emotions, profanity can help people communicate more clearly and control their anger. Scientific research has also shown that swearing can significantly reduce pain and ease stress. Don’t overdo it, though. Curse too often and you’ll undo its healing qualities.
Since the occasional obscenity can help your coworkers cope, cut them some slack. Don’t take their outbursts personally.
Know your f*****g audience
Cursing among coworkers isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What psychologist Dr. Helen Ross called “social swearing” can help create close relationships and cultivate intimacy with others. Other researchers suggest that, as long as it’s not used to abuse, cursing can be a benefit in the workplace.
That doesn’t mean cursing at an all-staff meeting or a community event will earn you respect. Before you speak, consider what a person or group may think about you because of the language you use—and whether that matches how you want to be perceived.
Make up your own effing mind
I adore the emotional punch of well-chosen words, both polite and profane. I also grew up in New York, a land of belligerent people who use the f-bomb like punctuation. If I stopped cursing, my friends and family would worry. That all means I’m easygoing when it comes to gutter talk. You might feel otherwise.
What’s your opinion about cursing at work? Sound off in the comments.
Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and speaker based in San Francisco. She helps organizations and do-gooders engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.