Cursing in Communications

Nancy Anderson
Posted by

Some time ago, the sales force was gathered for our weekly meeting. The morning scuttlebutt was that one of the salesmen had been fired for a serious infraction. This was confirmed when the GM began his presentation. But more than just comment on the firing, he launched into a rant against this former employee, calling him several expletives that should not be printed here. The GM then continued with warning that “if anyone tried to (expletive) him he would (expletive) them.”

We all got the message; but is the use of the “F-bomb” and several other invectives appropriate for a business meeting? Is there ever a time when cursing or swearing or using expletives is good for communication?

In response to this question, a blogger opined: “Cursing, when used judiciously, is probably the best way to make your words have a visceral impact. For whatever reason, people reflexively react to taboo words in a different, deeper way than usual. This has the power to make communication very effective.” The key word there, of course, is ‘judisciously.’ To be judicious, one needs to keep in mind:

1. The topic. The GM above was upset by an employee’s actions that were detrimental to the company; his cursing clearly showed that. But if he used expletives in describing or commenting on every day routine matters, his hearers are going to judge his management style and manners.
2. The audience. It might be appropriate to use such language before a group of salesmen (and we were all male), but a mixed audience might require toning down the rhetoric. Likewise, a female GM using salty language before male staff members creates a different dynamic.

3. The direction. One must also remember the direction of the conversation. Certainly the GM has the authority to stand before the staff and say whatever is desired in whatever manner is felt appropriate. This does not give staff members the permission to speak to one another in that manner; and it certainly does not allow the staff to use such language before their supervisor.

4. The duration. It’s one thing to make a point, using expletives if necessary. But there comes a time when the point is replaced by venting. Once the point is made, move on; otherwise the hearers will begin to question the speaker’s self-control.

Steve Pinker writing in The New Republic said: “Language has often been called a weapon, and people should be mindful about where to aim it and when to fire. The common denominator of taboo words is the act of forcing a disagreeable thought on someone… Even in its mildest form, intended only to keep the listener's attention, the lazy use of profanity can feel like a series of jabs in the ribs. They are annoying to the listener and a confession by the speaker that he can think of no other way to make his words worth attending to.” So, if you use expletives, be sure to use them judiciously!

Thinking about a job in communications? Check out

By: Joe Fairchild

Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

Jobs to Watch