March 24, 2010
Swearing at work: Yea or nay?
No matter what you think of our nation's freshly inked health care bill, Vice President Biden's blooper at Tuesday's White House ceremony raises an interesting point: whether it's okay to swear in a professional setting.
Obviously context is everything. Print all the mailing labels wrong side up in your office with the door closed and there's a decent chance you'll sound more like Christian Bale on the set of "Terminator Salvation" than Ned Flanders on "The Simpsons." But bang your elbow in a department-wide meeting with the CEO in attendance and your vocabulary probably won't get more colorful than "Oh fudge!"
Heck, even consummate curser Rahm Emanuel told "60 Minutes" that as a sign of respect he tones down his language when he's in the Oval Office.
Back in my own office days, I had a delightful, mild-mannered co-worker (let's call her "Sharon") who was fairly liberal with four-lettered litanies. On more than one occasion, I showed up at Sharon's office for a pre-scheduled meeting to find the door wide open and Sharon dropping a string of F-bombs, albeit in a mild-mannered, non-threatening way.
Usually Sharon would apologize upon seeing me at her door, explaining that she had just ended a frustrating phone call with a vendor or learned that a critical production schedule had been compromised. I always told Sharon it was no problem, and I always meant it.
In a corporate environment mostly devoid of emotion, I found Sharon's funny little outbursts -- and her humanness -- refreshing. She may have been the Office Swearer, but she certainly wasn't an office bully. And because she was endlessly likeable and kind, I saw no harm in her using a little R-rated language in my presence.
Readers, what do you think? When it comes to workplace vocabulary, do you think profanity is ever acceptable? Do you swear at work yourself? Do your co-workers? How does it make you feel when a boss or colleague drops the F-bomb?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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