HR Strange But True!
March 23, 2006

Is swearing an acceptable form of communication at work? It's expected and respected in some workplaces, according to an article in the online edition of the Wall Street Journal.

In some workplaces, "if you're the one who doesn't swear, you're the weirdo." Timothy Jay, a professor of psychology, tells the Journal. "Profane language can be very effective in gaining credibility. It works down the hierarchy, not up."

Jay Sapovits, a sales executive, tells the newspaper he loses trust in other sales people if they never swear in situations he thinks warrant a swear word or two.

Still, many companies prohibit profanity because it can offend people and can lead to harassment charges.

"Profanity will always offend someone, but the lack of profanity will never offend anyone," Rand Corp., which prohibits swearing, tells the Journal.

The Journal notes that workers use profanity as a bonding tool, a stress reliever, and a sign of status within an organization. While proponents of profanity in the workplace say it can work in those ways, P.M. Forni, co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, says that profanity can create friction in the workplace and that one of the problems is that workers have different ideas of where to draw the line.

Indeed, one person's bonding tool is another's out-of-bounds remark. Therefore, employees should avoid "working blue" in the workplace, Forni says.

"As a form of respect for the people around you whose sensitivities you cannot individually gauge, you should abstain from uttering profanities," Forni tells the Journal.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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