Do you curse in the workplace?
I was shocked by the f-bombs, until I embraced them
This essay was originally written in response to the prompt: “I was so angry…” on the Prompt app. Prompt is a platform that helps you write more frequently through the use of weekly prompts.
Showing anger at work is a rare sight. We are conditioned to moderate our emotions and reactions. An outburst can be seen as unprofessional, a sign of immaturity, a flag on the individual’s capacity to take on more. But in some work environments, anger is a tool used to signal power and intensity, a way to influence outcomes. This was the case with the company I joined several years ago.
My introduction to anger in this workplace came in the form of cursing. In meetings, ranging from 1–1s to team gatherings to company-wide functions with hundreds of people, I was shocked by the frequency and variety of curse words that were used in normal discourse. F-bombs flew left and right; four letter words were the currency of communication to emphasize a point or punctuate an emotion. “We are going to fucking crush it” was common-place when talking about goals. “Those guys are assholes” and “this is a piece of shit” were normal responses to describe a partner or a product. Were my colleagues perpetually angry? Or was the cursing just a linguistic tic I had to get used to?
To some maybe, use of these words in a business setting is common place. To me, it was foreign. I hadn’t experienced it in my previous years of work experience and wasn’t prepared for it. I had been conditioned in corporate old-school environments that cursing was inappropriate. The workplace had always been a place I thought to demonstrate your decorum. Cursing didn’t fit with that for me.
I quickly saw though that in this new workplace, cursing was the norm. I wasn’t opposed to curse words in general…far from it. I wasn’t puritanical, like someone that replies “language!” to a friend, when they curse. But in this office, to make my point, I had to speak the same language as my colleagues. I had to adopt the accent of my new professional home, which meant I had to embrace the dirty words. There was just one problem — I sucked at it!
There’s an art to delivering a strong “what the fuck!” A well-placed, full mouthed “shit-bag” takes practice. When I used these terms, it came across as hesitant, even weak. Friends said I sounded “affected”, a terrible insult in my mind. I needed to practice to get better at this.
So that’s what I did. I started to drop “fucking” into every descriptor to emphasize my point and perfect its pronunciation. I started to call things a “piece of shit” even if they were far from it. Practice makes perfect I thought. I looked to friends for affirmation when I dropped the perfect “ass-wipe” into a spoken thought. I practiced hard, but it’s hard to make up for years of neglect. My inability to get the tone right despite sincere effort became a running joke at home.
Ultimately, I left that job after two years. The cursing was just one sign of a work culture that wasn’t a good fit for me. As we build a career, going from company to company and role to role, we gain from every experience and challenge we live through and emerge stronger from it. In this case, I took the lessons on the power of cursing to future jobs and am more accepting of it, more tuned into how language is used in the work place. And I still try to deliver the perfect “what the fuck!” once in awhile, when the situation calls for it.
If you are looking to write more regularly but struggle with what to write on, check out the Prompt app.