Whether it’s your first day on the job or you’re celebrating five years with a company, it’s important to know the culture of the organization you work for and how your language is perceived by colleagues and clients. To that end, you’ll want to consider these eight tips before deciding if you can loosen your profanity filter at work.
1. Know your organizational culture.
Profanity in the workplace is a matter of culture. It can vary based on policy, both written and unwritten, as well as leadership. Observe and listen carefully. Cursing might be 100 percent unprofessional in some offices, while other offices might have cursing embedded into their culture.
2. Nothing is a secret.
Even after hours, when teammates are relaxing, and everyone is casually enjoying a drink and having a good time, watch your mouth. Remember, en vino veritastranslates to ‘in wine there is truth.’ Comments made will be shared with the powers that be. An after-hours event is just an extension of the professional workday.
3. Cursing colleagues are perceived as less intelligent.
Based on current research, profanity doesn’t appear to be an indicator of intelligence level, but people still perceive cursing colleagues negatively. Using words that are profane or vulgar creates an emotional response in teammates. So when you refrain from cursing, you’re perceived as more articulate, calm, mature, educated, pleasant, professional, and refined. Most vulgar language is used as a placeholder or as slang substituting proper vocabulary. In other words, it's unnecessary.
4. Keep it in check 24/7.
Whether you’re a manager or an intern, lead by example. As a coworker who doesn’t curse, you’ll be noticed by leadership and then could be invited to after-hours events to act as an ambassador for the organization. It can’t hurt to always lean towards a more professional and formal presentation of yourself.
5. Be a brand ambassador with customers.
Clients listen and wonder if they can take you in the boardroom with them. Will you embarrass them in front of their CEO? Their board? When you curse while representing your own organization, you’ll do worse when representing clients. Remember to embody brands at their highest and best.
6. Control your emotional reactions.
Profanity is used when people get upset and feel the need to reclaim power over a conversation. Respond, don't react. Responding is listening to what was said, formulating an articulate answer, and responding accordingly. Reacting is your ego trying to gain control of the situation. Quell your urge to lash out. Rather, collect yourself and respond professionally to save the trouble. Responding after active listening also helps to build trust through open and nonjudgmental communication.
7. If a mistake happens, apologize and be sincere.
You’re human, you might slip; mistakes happen. The more important part is how you handle it afterward. Some people opt for levity and brushing it off lightly. You can never go wrong with being humble and owning up to your faults. Apologize with a sincere, ‘please forgive me’ or ‘excuse my potty mouth, it slipped.’ Being genuine and using levity in your response leads to audience forgiveness.
8. Follow the lead, but use discretion.
When in doubt, mirror and match the appropriate behavior of leadership. This works when seeking to fit into organizational culture. Gauge your behavior on spectrums of personal comfort and office culture. Supervisors set the tone and are the leaders of the environment. Stay within your comfort zone. Be a model of behavior. In times of stress, demonstrate integrity with carefully chosen language.
Sharon Schweitzer is an international business etiquette expert, author, and the founder of Access to Culture.
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