Thanks to salty-tongued former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz, swearing at work -- is it good, is it bad, should women swear, should they not, what does it all mean for office protocol -- is a meme of the week for business journalists. Oh, great. Don't these reporters ever read blogs or use Twitter? Everyone is swearing left and right these days, men and women alike. It's not really a gender issue anymore, at least for the younger generations or anyone who reads Jezebel. We all know people with hot tempers who swear more than they should. And yes, the occasional four-letter word has been known to slip out even on the job. But with any luck, not in front of customers unless you know them very, very well.
The problem with cussing at work is that there's an inverse correlation that comes along with it. The more we swear, the less impact our high-octane words have on the intended audience over time. That's because we human beings tend to build up immunity to a co-worker's swearing until it no longer shocks us anymore. We've come to expect it. So when our salty-tongued boss or co-worker has yet another profanity-filled tirade, we just sort of wait for the storm to pass and tell our wide-eyed new co-worker, "Oh, he (or she) always talks like that. Just ignore it." But the whole point of swearing is to have an impact, to shock the listener. The f-dropping employee has his or her mo-jo working, it's just not working on anyone in the office anymore.
The key to good office swearing is to use it very sparingly, strategically and judiciously so that your words carry the desired impact. Oh my God, so-and-so just said, "^$&@"! She must really be worried or upset about this! That's the goal. Then your swear words actually have impact. They shock. They amaze. Because they're so rarely said. They grab people's attention, for better and for worse. But if you swear continuously at work, on a blog, on Twitter or anywhere else, then people just start to tune you out like so much Musak playing in the office elevator. Plus, continual swearing is, quite frankly, incredibly lazy, especially in written form. The English language offers us thousands upon thousands of wonderful, multi-syllabic words, but we're sticking to the same, offensive four-letter words over and over again like a skipping music CD. Force your co-workers to use an online dictionary every so often. It's good for them!
If you swear a lot at work, then be aware that you may, over time, risk becoming non-serious background noise to everyone else in the office. Oh, she always talks like that. Just ignore her.
Of course, it's best not to swear at work at all, but it happens and if you must swear at work, then try to use it more sparingly, strategically and very, very judiciously. That's key to effective, impactful swearing on the job. Now just &^%$#(* do it already.