Oh sh**! How you can curse like a boss at work
Ask Jesse Botte if she swears at work, and she’ll tell you: “A big f*****g hell yes!”
The 31-year-old founder of JBeWell Fitness Solutions — who boasts an accent she jokingly describes as “Marisa Tomei circa ‘My Cousin Vinny’”– says that when she began training clients at a fancy gym in Manhattan, she was told to tone down her frequent cursing. But “I didn’t bother changing. I was always respectful of course, but I was me,” she says. And it’s worked: “The stuffy upper crust loved hanging out with me — and my business boomed,” she says.
Even in more traditional office environments, workers are embracing foul language. Recruitment consultant Zachary Painter ResumeGenius.com says cursing is encouraged in his office, noting that “it really helps us relax and feel more like natural selves, which I would wager improves our work performance and productivity.” And Max Robinson, the founder of aquarium company Fish Tank Bank, says he even curses around customers when he makes a mistake. “We’ll send them an email titled ‘oops, we f**ked up’,” he says, adding that consumers are often “less likely to react angrily to any issues” when they get a “disarming” email like this.
It’s now the norm to curse at work — with more than half of employees admitting to at least some foul language in the office, according to CareerBuilder. But there is a fine line — and it varies from company to company — between a few bad words here and there and the constant dropping of f-bombs. Here’s what experts say are the do’s and dont’s of cursing at work.
Don’t: Feel you need to curse at work. If you aren’t comfortable cursing, don’t do it. Even if others do it, “it never hurts to curse less than others — you’ll be perceived as more stable and serious,” says Dan Russell, an industrial-organizational psychologist who has coached senior leaders for more than 10 years. And remember that some people see cursing as a big no-no: “Cursing doesn’t belong at work,” says Laura Handrick, an HR analyst at FitSmallBusiness.com. Unless someone “just walked in on you in the one unisex restroom in your office, in which case ‘shut the f*****g door,” is perfectly acceptable,” she jokes.
Do: Survey the landscape. “My best advice is to look around and match the culture,” says Russell. Are multiple people more senior to you and at your level cursing? If so, it’s probably acceptable in your company. You also have to “gauge the feelings” of each individual, says Geoff Scott, a career adviser at ResumeCompanion.com. “The office should be a place where everyone feels comfortable, and if you have coworkers who are uneasy hearing curse words, save them for after hours.”
Don’t: Use curses to hurt others. “Curse words can be abused. If they are used to hurt or demean others, then they are inappropriate – but not because they are curse words, but because you are trying to damage another person,” says Tomer Yogev, an executive coach for TandemSpring www.tandemspring.com. “It is the intent, not the language.”
Do: Be selective about your audience. Cursing around your coworkers is probably fine in many office environments — of the people who curse in their office, 95% do it around their coworkers, the CareerBuilder survey found — but beware of cursing around people at a higher level than you or clients you’re trying to impress. Just 13% of potty-mouth workers use expletives around senior leaders and just 7% do it in front of clients.
Don’t: Curse too often. The occasional curse every few days or so among close friends at work is probably fine. But “if you’re constantly in your cubicle snarling like a truck driver, it’s doubtful that management will think, ‘Ahh, those dulcet tones. Yes, let’s send Patty to lunch with that new, multi-million dollar client,’” says career strategist Carlota Zimmerman.
Do: Use cursing strategically. When Alec Sears, now a communications specialist at Frontier Communications, first got into the work world, he was surprised that people cursed. But then he began to see that it could be used effectively: “Most of the time cursing was used to be humorous, in situations where it could make teams laugh or help people to bond. It wasn’t used in excess, but a curse word in the right spot during a meeting helped everyone feel more relaxed and connected,” he says.
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