Do you ever swear? Never? Wow! I do but very rarely. Sometimes. Not really. Well, it depends. I can´t swear to it though I wouldn´t swear to or at a client, but sometimes I swear at one of my cats or both if they´re really bothering me (jumping up on my printer to watch the paper spit out of the machine, which, because of their interference, invariably gets jammed). Otherwise I try very hard (though not always very successfully) to keep my four-letter utterances to an extreme minimum. But of course I´m human and occasionally I slip. But what do you do about swearing in the workplace? Can you train people to minimize their use of four-letter words? I asked swearing expert (yes, there is a swearing expert right here in suburban Chicago"?¦) James V. O´Connor about swearing in the workplace. He is the author of CUSS CONTROL, the Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing. O´Connor worked in corporate communications for four Fortune 500 companies before starting his own public relations firm in the Chicago area. Here´s an interview I conducted with him recently:
LGL: Just about everyone swears, so why is it an issue?
JVO: Maybe everyone swears, but no one swears everywhere. Swearing is inappropriate in many situations, particularly at work. It can be considered unprofessional, reflect a lack of emotion control, offend certain employees, and contribute to a coarse and hostile environment.
LGL: Isn´t it natural to swear when work is difficult or frustrating?
JVO: Events at work can be troublesome, but troubles should be dealt with in a mature and professional manner. People get upset, but they should try their best to control their emotions as well as their language and focus on solving the problem. Doing so reflects a positive, can-do attitude that other employees-and supervisors-will come to admire.
LGL: Aren´t there more important issues to worry about?
JVO: Absolutely. Swearing becomes a problem depending on which words are used, how they are used, how often, and who hears them. Muttering swear words over a computer glitch is not the same as swearing at a colleague-which can lead to violence-or making lewd remarks to a subordinate-which can be sexual harassment.
LGL: Should companies have policies against swearing?
JVO: That´s a management decision that might be prompted by an incident, complaints, or simply the boss´s prerogative. Rules are difficult to enforce, but they establish guidelines and expectations. Frequent violators can legally be fired if the offending employee has been warned.
LGL: Should managers avoid bad language in order to be role models?
JVO: Yes. Managers tend to earn more respect and cooperation if they control their language. They have every right to discipline or correct an employee, but will be more effective if they rely on their authority rather than profanity.
LGL: If a manager hears an employee swear, should he or she say something?
JVO: Yes, depending on the situation. Not all words are equally offensive or intense, and some profanity is simply lazy language, while other times it can be sparked by serious problems. The problems should be dealt with first, and the employee´s language addresses later.
LGL: Do people have biases against those who swear regularly?
JVO: Yes. Even occasional cursers have less regard for chronic cursers. For one thing, chronic cursers are often complaining or criticizing or expression negative emotions, creating an unpleasant working environment, and sometimes adding to stress.
LGL: Can swearing hold someone back, even if he or she is a stellar worker?
JVO: Again, it depends. An excellent performer who swears intensely without regard for who hears it-customers, for instance-could be passed over. Great work is important, but so are a positive attitude, team spirit, and a professional manner. It is important to realize the problem isn´t just the words, but the negative tone or attitude that often accompanies them.