Swearing at Work: Good or Bad?

When I was interviewing for my first agency job I had an old-school half-day of interviews with various players in the hiring game. I only remember one of those conversations, and really, just one part of it.

The Creative Director I’d just chatted with turned to the hiring manager who’d come to move me along and said, “She’s not an asshole, you can hire her.” I’m pretty sure I laughed. And they did hire me.

What I love about that moment is the precision of the language. We all know what asshole means, and the speaker is clearly conveying both that no assholes need apply, and that I am not an asshole. Thinking back on that incident led me to ponder the Rules of Swearing at Work — maybe because I recently wrote about the merits of swearing in front of your kids on my personal blog.

I tend to ponder in question form: What are the Rules of Swearing at Work? Do they exist? Are they different for men and women, minority and majority people? Do they change as you move up the ladder? Can they make or break you, or is it your output that really matters?

Going back to my story, what gender do you think the speaker is? I’ve told you their relative rank, do you think that matters? Would I have risked being hired if I’d dropped an F-bomb in response?

I don’t have all the answers to those questions, but I do have my own Rules of Swearing at Work:

  1. Know your audience.
  2. Know your brand. (Are you Roy Kent or Ted Lasso*? It matters.)
  3. Practice fake swear words so they come out naturally if you need them.
  4. If you choose to swear, be prepared for the consequences.
  5. Don’t use swearing to be mean.

*For the two people on the planet who are unfamiliar with Ted Lasso: He’s a Middle America Aw Shucks Gee Whiz guy who speaks a lot, and really fast, in streams of puns and cultural references that can be extremely obscure. He almost never swears. But. There’s a scene at the end of season one where he does, without a lot of other words around it, and it’s just a stunner. Turns out it’s an Easter egg, but it’s still an impressive use of contrast in the writing to throw a Klieg light on how much he cares about what he’s talking about.

Effective use of the F-bomb: Just one of the many life lessons Ted Lasso has to share. Have a great week, y’all!

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