Swearing to Tell the Truth

For crying out loud, it is one of the most touchy yet most important elements of organizational culture. I mean, holy f%&*ing christ, few things draw such a clear line between those that do, and those that don’t. Of course, dumbs*&t, I mean cursing in the workplace

With the simultaneous resurgence of religous zealotry and the decrease in workplace formality, a conflict was inevitable. Some workplaces are church-like in their genteel nature, and others sound like army bases or truck stops. What’s a person to do?

Well, as in most things, there are a number of perspectives to consider. Do you swear or not? Does the workplace swear or not? Should you try to change it (or you) one way or the other? It’s really not that simple, is it?

And perhaps I’m not the most objective observer. I’ve grown up in workplaces where cursing was not only acceptable, it seemed a badge of honor. So I have a potty-mouth. As you can guess, my wife loves it… [not]. But I have learned, over the years to be a cursing chameleon, and I think that works.

I’ve learned over the years to be a cursing chameleon

My rule of thumb is not to let the first one slip, until I hear someone else offer it up. Then I just try to tune my mouth to the surroundings. If everyone uses profanity with every breath, I increase to about 50% of that level. If the place is a church, I’ll be right there with them (unless I get my hand smacked by a stapler… then all bets are off). This seems to work, and doesn’t make me appear too much of an outsider.

But what if you don’t swear, think others shouldn’t either, and yet work where they do? Should you try to change your little corner of the world? Well, sure, if that’s your calling. But prepared to be disappointed, ridiculed, and even ostracised for your efforts.

If you decide to take on the challenge of a curse-free workplace, you’re in for a tough job. It is a deep part of culture and habit, and the mission won’t be easy. Take it slow, make sure you’re on good solid footing otherwise, and quietly eat the elephant one bite at a time.

Pick a likely target and privately, quitely have go at the “you know, it wouldn’t hurt if you toned it down a bit” conversation. Be sensible, be reasonable, and set your sights low. Don’t make it a key issue, don’t wave your opinon in peoples’ faces, but over time just let everyone know you’d prefer a different style of speech.

And don’t be surprised if you get told how effing silly you’re being.