QUESTION: During business discussions in our company, I have increasingly heard the F-word being used, even by managers and supervisors. While this doesn’t seem to bother some people, others are noticeably disturbed by it. Personally, I do not understand when or how this became acceptable workplace language.
As a woman, I sense that men sometimes use profanity as a means of intimidating female colleagues and limiting their participation in meetings. However, I’m not sure how to respond when someone throws an F-bomb into the conversation. Do you have any suggestions for addressing this problem?
ANSWER: Casual profanity is definitely more prevalent these days, but the degree to which expletives are tolerated in the workplace depends largely on the climate established by executives. Apparently, management in your company either has no problem with such language or is too spineless to tackle the issue.
From a business standpoint, managers who are not offended by profanity need to recognize that many people are. This group may include important customers, key staff members and highly recruited job applicants. So regardless of their own feelings on the matter, wise executives take steps to discourage vulgarity and promote professionalism.
If your own objective is to create a widespread cultural change, you will need to recruit some allies from the ranks of those who are “noticeably disturbed.“ This group can then ask to meet with human resources or top management and present the business case for a language clean-up.
But if you simply wish to stop the offenders from swearing at you personally, then you must politely, but firmly, make that request. Just be sure to deliver this message with a smile and a friendly tone.
For example: “Bob, even though I’m not a prude, I find the F-word to be very offensive. I would really appreciate your not using it during our conversations.“
This approach should work quite well with reasonable adults who do not wish to offend anyone. Unfortunately, it will have no effect on those immature folks who get a secret thrill out of using naughty words.
Q: Last week, I accidently overheard my supervisor talking about me to another manager. Based on that conversation, it sounds as though my position might be eliminated soon, and I may have to find another job in the company. This has me very worried, but I don’t know whether I should mention it.
A: Since you weren’t engaging in deliberate office espionage, you should have no problem raising this issue. To either ease your fears or confirm your suspicions, simply ask your supervisor a direct question.
For example: “Last week I accidentally overheard a conversation that seemed to imply that my job is going to be eliminated. Is there any truth to that?“
You may learn that the discussion you heard was about something entirely different. But if your interpretation is correct, at least you will be in a better position to begin planning for the future.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.“ Send in questions and get free coaching tips at http://www.yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter officecoach.