Do you curse in the workplace?
I was shocked by the f-bombs, until I embraced them
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.
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