I rarely swear. The exceptions were like this Sunday morning when my cat made a flying leap onto my head at 5:20 am, waking me up.
I have never sworn at work, I don’t like swearing, and I don’t allow bad words in the HR group I moderate, but should you swear at work? What are the upsides and downsides?
The upside of a few expertly placed f-bombs.
Because I don’t generally swear, if I were to use such a word, people would notice. We all remember the scandalous scene in Gone with the Wind where Rhett Butler has finally had enough of Scarlet’s behavior and drops the “d” bomb, with “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Of course, today, we wouldn’t think that was strong language, but in 1939 it was shocking.
It also would have made the scene less dramatic if Rhett had left with, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t really care what you do.”
The BBC shares a story of Teodoro Locsin, the Philippine Foreign Minister, who sent a startling tweet regarding his feelings about conflicts in the South China Sea: China, my friend, how politely can I put it? Let me see… O…GET THE [F*CK] OUT
A more polite or diplomatic (as Locsin himself said after deleting the tweet) wouldn’t have had as much impact.
But, if every other word out of your mouth is a four-lettered one, no one will notice the emphasis when you throw one more out there.
Not all swearers are considered equal.
One study from the University of Mississippi found that women who swore were considered far more obscene than men who swore.
Is any of this fair? The words are the same, no matter who says them. Of course, it’s not fair! And if you are making any sorts of decisions involving people who swear, you better stop and “flip it to test it” to evaluate whether what the person said would be equally offensive if someone who looks differently said the same thing.
Anti-discrimination laws don’t care whether your bias is conscious or unconscious–if you treat someone differently based on race or gender, you’re violating the law.
Are people who swear smarter than those who don’t?
Some studies show that swearers as having more integrity than others. Other studies found that swearing was a sign of “narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.” Not exactly what you want.
Another study found that people with big profanity vocabularies had bigger overall vocabularies, and therefore, were more intelligent.
I question all of these. I can list all the swear words you want, but I don’t use them. I know narcissists with pristine vocabularies and people with questionable vocabularies who you can trust with your children and your bank account.
I’m not convinced that swearing actually means much at all in terms of integrity or intelligence.
Should you allow swearing in your office?
Well, you’re probably not going to stop it altogether unless you heavily screen your candidates, but you should make sure that it’s not an everyday occurrence. Whether you are bothered by it or not, it bothers some people, and the right (or wrong) words can bring up claims of sexual or racial harassment. I think we can all agree that there is never a place for the “n” word at work, nor is the “c” word something that should be uttered.
Whatever you decide, it needs to be consistent. If you swear like it’s going out of style and then cringe when someone else does, you’re the hypocrite. If you don’t promote a too “crude” woman because of cursing but promote a man with the same potty mouth, you’re in big legal trouble.
But do remember this: if you want to have a huge impact from time to time, save the bad words for that moment. Think of Rhett Butler before you decide.