How not to let off steam at the office
Eight precepts about when to watch your mouth and conduct to avoid a faux pas
Whether it’s your first day on the job, or you’re celebrating many years with a company, it’s important to know the culture of the organization, and how your language is perceived by workplace colleagues and clients.
Consider these tips before deciding whether it’s okay to loosen your profanity filter at work.
Know your organizational culture.
Profanity in the workplace is a matter of culture. It may vary based on policy, both written and unwritten, as well as leadership. Observe and listen carefully. It may be 100 per cent unprofessional in some offices, while other offices may have cursing embedded in their conduct. Nothing is a secret. Even after hours, when teammates are relaxing, enjoying a drink casually and having a good time, watch your mouth. Remember, en vino veritas translates to “in wine there is truth.” Expect any comments made to be shared with the powers that be. An afterhours event is just an extension of the professional work day.
Colleagues who curse are still perceived as less intelligent.
Current research finds that although profanity doesn’t appear to be an indicator of intelligence level, people still perceive colleagues who curse more negatively. Although there may not be a proven correlation between profanity use and intellect, it’s a matter of perception. Word choice can be a delicate task. Using emotional words that are profane or vulgar creates an emotional response in teammates. When you refrain from cursing, you are perceived as more articulate, mature, pleasant and professional.
Keep it in check 24/7.
Whether you are a manager or an intern, lead by example. Leaders will notice the difference and may invite you to after-hours events to act as an ambassador for the organization. It can’t hurt to lean toward a more professional and formal presentation of yourself.
Be a brand ambassador with customers.
Clients listen and wonder if they can take you into their board room. Will you embarrass them in front of their CEO or their board? You represent your organization, so embody the brand at its best.
Control your emotional reactions.
Profanity is used when people become upset and feel the need to reclaim power over a conversation. Respond, don’t react. Responding is listening to what was said and formulating an articulate answer. Reacting is your ego trying to gain control of the situation. Quell your urge to lash out; collect yourself and respond professionally. Responding after active listening also helps build trust through open and non-judgmental communication. 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 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.
Follow the lead, but use discretion.
When in doubt, mirror and match the appropriate behaviour of leadership. This works when seeking to fit into organizational culture. Gauge your behaviour on spectrums of personal comfort and office culture. Supervisors set the tone but stay within your comfort zone. Be a model of behaviour. In times of stress, demonstrate integrity with carefully chosen language. Financial Post Sharon Schweitzer is an international business etiquette expert, author and the founder of Access to Culture.