How to Be Professional When You Have a Filthy Mouth

Let’s get one thing straight: swearing can be fucking brilliant. There are times when a well placed f-bomb is not only appropriate, but required. Necessary. Swearing need not be the scarlet letter that it once was, and many curse words that were considered vulgar and offensive have made their way onto television and radio airwaves. Take the humble “bitch”, for example. It’s everywhere now...even a term of endearment amongst friends. But it wasn’t too long ago that it found itself on the list with the other most offensive terms and expressions.

See Also10 Bad Office Habits You Need to Give Up Right Now

So, language can evolve. Words have no inherent power to repulse, delight, or antagonize. We give it to them, and we can take it away. Hence our current love affair with “bitch”.

And it’s not all bad for other swear words. There are plenty of good reasons to use profanity: it relieves pain, it adds emphasis, it assists social bonding, and it has actual psychological and physical health benefits.

So, should you shun profanity in all its forms and at all times? Fuck no!

That said, we need to be aware that swearing in some places is still frowned upon. With a big fucking frown. At church? Not a good idea. At your kid’s school? Probably not.

And not at work, either...or so it would seem.

A recent survey conducted by CareerBuilder found that 81% of employers believe swearing at work brings your professionalism into question. That’s not where you want it to reside. You want your professionalism to have a permanent place at the big kids’ table in the penthouse on the top floor, overlooking the city skyline.  

The survey also noted:

  • 64% of employers think less of employees who swear
  • 57% are less likely to promote them
  • 71% say it shows a lack of control
  • 54% believe it makes someone appear less intelligent

These are not the kind of impressions you want to give your colleagues and superiors. It’s shitty, but people still look down on the filthy-mouthed among us. So what can you do when you have a mouth like a trucker? Or sailor? Can you still maintain an aura of professionalism when you swear all the goddamn time?

Damn straight you can.

1. Limit It

Your first option is to limit the exposure of your dirty, dirty language. If you swear all the time and in every situation, it’s not going to be easy to control it. Stage 1 involves reducing the instances when you might accidentally say something “inappropriate”. No one is suggesting you hide in your office with the door closed and your mouth taped shut, but try and utilize the written word whenever you can. As we live in a text-crazy culture anyway, this should be easy. Instead of calling or talking to someone face-to-face (because a “fuck”, “shit”, or “asshat” may slip out), try sending a quick instant message for short little notes, questions, and reminders, or an email for longer letters and requests. You’re much less likely to write the profanity than you are to let it slip out during a conversation. And unlike spoken communication, where the offensive word hangs in the air like an inescapable stench, written communication provides the opportunity to read through, revise, and delete as necessary before you send it. This is a good thing.  

Taking it a bit further, try and identify the situations when your colourful language usually comes out to play. Do you swear when you’re angry? Socializing? For emphasis? Is there one person that brings out the absolute worst in you? Identify, and then work to reduce or eliminate your exposure to those circumstances.  

2. Control It

Stage 2 is to actively control your swearing. There are several methods you could employ, but they all come down to punishment in one form or another.

The simple swear jar is the classic solution. Get a big jar, label it, and toss in a predetermined amount of cash (go for at least $1 so you feel it...anything less and it might become meaningless) every time you let your fuck flag fly. Donate the cash to charity, or use it to buy snacks and coffee for the office every time it’s full.

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Or you might try some corporal punishment. No, we’re not talking about getting someone to spank you (although that might be fun). You could wear an elastic band around your wrist and snap it each time you let loose with the potty mouth. Even better, tell your colleagues about it, and let them snap it for you. It’ll hurt, and you’ll want to avoid it. If the elastic band doesn’t appeal to you, you can do the same thing with a pinch to the arm, or punch to the shoulder. Again, bring some accountability to the procedure by inviting everyone to participate. The idea is to hurt you a bit, not cripple you, in order to associate mild pain with profanity.

3. Reframe and Replace It

Stage 3 is to reframe your thinking, and replace your go-to words and phrases. Begin to think about profanity as uncouth, vulgar, and lowbrow. You don’t have to believe it completely, although it does work better if you do. Place swearing and bad words in the same category with other things you would never, ever do (for moral or ethical reasons, religious reasons, supersttitions). Reframe profanity as something that is as far away from who you are as possible.

Next, find work-friendly, SFW replacements of your favourite curse words. Pretend you’re a parent with a toddler that parrots everything you say. You don’t want him or her picking up your bad language, right?

Instead of dammit, try dagnabit. Or tarnation. Instead of shit, try crap, or poo, or flurg (a nonsense replacement word might work best because you can bestow it with as much power and taboo as you want - no one knows the meaning anyway). Instead of fuck, try frack, or frick, or frig (the f-sound and the hard k-sound seem necessary for these ones to work the same). Will you feel silly and stupid at first? Absolutely. Is it better than getting fired and/or passed over for promotions because your boss has a low opinion of you? Absolutely.  

You could also work with similar-sounding words like shirt or ship instead of shit. Who knows, you just might be able to trick your brain.

See AlsoWhy Swearing at Work Should Always Be Avoided

There you have it. Limit it, control it, reframe and replace it. It will most definitely not be easy, my filthy-mouthed friend, but you can do it. Swaring can be awesome. No argument. But its presence in the workplace is going to hurt your career. It might be a little, it might be a lot, but it will be. You’ve worked too long and too hard to get where you are to have it derailed by the occasional cock, bullshit, jackass, or dumbfuck. Take control. You may love cursing, you may see no harm in it, but your boss does. And ultimately, they hold all the cards.

Control it at work, and then double your profanity-laced tirades at home and with friends.

Do you swear a blue streak at work? Has it affected your career in any way? Leave your thoughts in the comments below...

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