In this week’s grab bag we have a question about office etiquette and cursing from L.R. in Texas. She writes,
There is a no cursing policy where I work. However, people who I work with, specifically men, who are very comfortable working with me and they trust me as a coworker, use curse words during our conversation we have at work, even if some of these conversations are not work-related. This is an infrequent occurrence but it bothers me. While I am grateful that my coworkers feel comfortable with me, I still don’t think that using curse words is ok at work, period. How can I tell my coworkers casually that they need to stop? Sometimes they happen to be my boss… I don’t want to “scare them off” per say by being up tight all of a sudden, but I need to let them know. Please help.
When is enough, enough? Lighting up the verbal atmosphere at the office is a sure fire way to catch heat from your superiors, but what do you do if it IS your superior? L.R. is in a common situation. How many times has a co-worker or boss said something that makes you uncomfortable? If you’re human, it’s probably happened within the past month. Curse words, racial slurs, dirty jokes all fall under the domain of poor taste.
There are a few things working against you L.R. First, words, even curse words, can’t actually kill anyone – an extreme statement, but the point is, you can’t simply say to the offender, “You’re killing me.” There’s no criminal reason to stop someone from using curse words. Second, officially you are supposed to report infractions to HR . . . and that is a big buzz kill.
But, you can let the offender know how uncomfortable you are in a subtle yet direct way . . . watch out though because this is a slippery slope straight to passive aggressive behavior on your part – not a good way for you to be perceived.
Phrases like, “Wow, that is really vulgar,” or “What would your daughter think about that?” Those allow you to be direct without saying, “Hey dude, you are gross.” You want to reflect on how offensive the WORDS are, not the person. Careful. Careful.
Plan B is to come straight out and say it – “Hey, Name of Person, I’m so glad you feel comfortable with me. Your language is harsh and distracting. Do you mind toning it down a bit?”
To this you may get one of three responses:
1. A shocked stare and then possible avoidance.
2. A Yes, I do mind reaction, at which point you have a small problem on your hands.
3. Or you may get a No, I don’t mind, and the offender will tone it down moving forward.
Many people using profanity in the workplace are unaware they are using profanity because the words are so common these days. There’s no sense getting upset about it until you have come clean with the offender to let him/her/them know that you find such language offensive. It is offensive, but most of us no longer notice it because profanity has permeated everyday life.
Stand up for yourself and your ears. If profanity bothers you, let the offender know that his words are problematic – again, focus on his words, not him.
Good luck L.R., let us know how it goes!