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Sick of Potty Mouths in the Workplace

Q:  Dear Workplace Wonda,

 I’ve noticed there has been a lot of casual cursing around the office where I work.  I find it offensive and unprofessional and I think other employees do too.  How would you handle this situation?

Signed, Sick of Potty Mouths

What the $#!!*?

A: Dear Sick of Potty Mouths,

There is no doubt that the days of saying fiddlesticks, ding dangit, and whoopee daisies are over.  Today, words used to express frustration are much more blue, crude, raw, and just plain profane.  Unfortunately, cursing in casual conversation is socially acceptable by some and expletives are now standard adjectives, nouns and verbs used in movies, music, and on TV.  But there is one place where the use of four lettered words is still not acceptable, W-O-R-K!

I’m not saying that everyone in the workplace needs to use a prudishly Mary Poppins-like vocabulary and skip around the workplace singing supercalifragilisticexpialidocious... But, letting an f-bomb explode from your mouth in the workplace gives a bad impression, can endanger customer relationships, and be taken as a sign of ignorance, disrespect, hostility, or lack of control. 

Some things to ponder before you break out your best Al Pacino’s Scarface impression during a staff meeting:

1.  It offends more people than you may think.  Many people feel uncomfortable around cursing, but don’t know how to address it with the individual who is offending.  People do overhear your conversations even when you think no one is listening. 

2.  Think of appropriate language at work like adhering to a dress code.  In the same way people that dress for success in a casual environment are perceived to be more professional, those who choose their words carefully and speak well, are perceived to be more professional, educated, and versed with social grace.  Set the example that it’s better to have class than be crass. 

3.  It can be said differently.  Think about the impact of your words on the situation.  Will they be seen as inappropriate?  Will anyone be insulted or embarrassed?  Would your grandma be offended?  Take time to make your point without using a four-letter expletive.

4.  Peppering conversations with ineffective and unimaginative curse words doesn’t make you sound particularly articulate, intelligent, or powerful.  In fact, it is just the opposite.

5.  Swearing isn’t illegal, in general, but the perception of whatever is said can lead to greater damage if it is not kept under control.  It can lead to discrimination, sexual harassment claims, perpetuate a negative workplace environment, and make some people so uncomfortable that they dread being with or around the offender. 

How would I handle this situation?  First, by doing exactly what you are doing - bringing the topic up  as an area of concern and asking that it be addressed.  Second, I would either address the issue directly with the offender or discuss it with the offender’s supervisor.  Cursing in the workplace should be clearly addressed in any employee handbook.   The best way to address it is immediately after the offense occurred.  For example, you might say,  “Do you mind using cleaner language; when you curse it makes me feel uncomfortable.” 

For those of you with potty mouths, consider this before dropping the next F-bomb: if you don’t clean up your language, you might just flush yourself right out of a job.

Signed, Workplace Wonda


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