Confession: about swearing at work

Funny I can swear all I want in my office since I work at home. But reading something on Bob Sutton’s blog today triggered a memory about my old workplace. On the first day of my last job I came into my new office. Naturally, being located in overly-PC corporate suburbia usually the safest bet in behaving appropriately is to remain low-key and just observe. It seemed that acting any differently might get you noticed in a bad way. At least this is how I felt about working in a leviathan of suburban-based corporate environment.

But on that first day… I walked pass my neighbor’s cubicle and suddenly heard a flurry of expletives come from his mouth while he was on the phone (with some one he was familiar with, I assume). Suddenly I felt a good deal of tension melt away from my shoulders… I let my gut relax. Why did I suddenly feel like I was okay with this and immediately felt okay with working there?

Maybe because here was someone actually just being himself. If he felt comfortable, more then likely I could too. That and it gave me the first laugh I’d had in a few months while working there.

I’m not saying that all people would be familiar with hearing bleep-bleep-bleep, but I have to say sometimes it’s the only way to express how you’re feeling at the time.

As Bob Sutton notes:

We teach our Ph.D. students at Stanford in the Center for Work, Technology and Organization who do ethnographies of the workplace that using foul language is sometimes necessary for providing accurate and realistic descriptions of what people say and how they feel.

No it’s not appropriate to swear all the time. And one person’s observation that it’s kind of funny or cool doesn’t mean that it’s okay for everyone to start using foul-language. But then again I think that’s what we have problems with in general as humans who are always looking for rules and guidance systems. Some of us (maybe most of us) think we always need to stay strict to them no matter what. Loosen up, try to set the expectation that people should behave appropriately to each other. If someone’s uncomfortable with language or behavior the environment should be set up where they feel comfortable enough to state this without being abrasive.


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