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Swearing in the Workplace

By: Maggie Lonsdale BA (hons) - Updated: 23 Feb 2017 | comments*Discuss
Swearing Swear Work Formal Colleagues

It is a common belief that people that swear too much are simply too lazy to think of the right word to say. Without wishing to sound terribly pious, there is some truth in that. However, swearing is also pretty much a part of normal life nowadays, so this would be a rather short article if that was the conclusion.

The fact that swearing is a part of everyday life means that we need to navigate a way through a day in the office without offending anyone, while still appreciating that people do swear. Of course, there are different types of swearing and, without spelling it out, you really ought to avoid the ‘worst words’ regardless of who you’re talking to.

Swearing with Colleagues

Although it may sound strange, the appropriateness swearing with colleagues in the workplace is influenced largely by the industry you are in and the individuals you work with. It is important to appreciate that it is the balance of those two details that create the ‘acceptability’ - you may think that swearing like a trooper is fine in a garage but not in a solicitors – but it depends on the types of people that work there just as much as the type of workplace.

When you start a new job, you’ll realise pretty quickly whether people swear or not. Now, that does not mean that you then have to throw in expletives just because others do, but you may not have to watch your tongue quite as much as if you find yourself in a more formal setting.

Swearing with Senior Management

Although there may be plenty of situations where swearing seems entirely suitable, it is better to err on the side of caution. Don’t forget that curious occurrence when it seems fine for one person (i.e. the boss) to do something, but wrong for someone else (i.e. you) to do the exact same thing.

If you are in the pub, or on the golf course, or having a raucous time somewhere, then the odd expletive is probably fine. Just don’t make any offensive remarks (not that you’d want to, surely.)

There is no reason to swear in meetings. You don’t need to tell other people not to swear, or make a big show of turning your nose up when someone else does, just don’t do it yourself. It’s easier and you won’t get into trouble.

Swearing with Clients

This is essentially the same situation as with senior management – take your cues from the most ‘senior’ person you’re with, but remember that what goes for them doesn’t necessarily go for you. Rather than actively swear, or indeed actively not swear, you can have your own ‘language’ that doesn’t rely on such coarse words without looking like a real goody two shoes. It’s naive to think that you can be holier than thou about your client’s language and they’re not only going to thank you for it but also continue to give you their contracts. They need to feel comfortable with you, so ‘mirror’ their behaviour, while taking care not to overstep the mark.

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@Habib = it's each to their own. You can't stop a person from swearing and if your employer allows it, there isn't much you can do.
Pip - 24-Feb-17 @ 2:25 PM
I have recently a concluded a 4 and a half year grievance and disciplinary issue with a colleague that has seen me being issued with a first written warning for writing a derogatory comment about this person's work performance. as you can probably gather I have effectively been at war with this colleague but finally our manager has agreed for me to move to the other side of the office after four years of asking. One of my pet hates about her is her propensity for profanity as she seems to take any opportunity she can find to indulge in it. Am I wrong to think that is grossly unprofessional not to mention hostile inducing and contributes to an unpleasant and unproductive work environment. ? My case is not helped by the fact that management ( and even HR ) indulge in it from time to time but nowhere near the extent that my colleague does . Maybe its just a cultural fit and im being overly sensitive. Its just my impression that this type of gutter language is more akin to the school playground rather than a workplace full of grown adults....
Habib - 23-Feb-17 @ 10:36 PM
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