On an overcast afternoon in Brooklyn, N.Y., a group of preteen girls purposefully approached a boy. There was nobody else in the playground. It was 1969.
Hands planted on hips, one of the girls stood out from the others and addressed the boy, "We've decided not to play with you anymore because you curse too much." The other girls nodded in stern solidarity.
"Tough s**t," said the boy, who shrugged and walked off.
The following day, the boy apologized to the girls and said he would work on it. He had no intention of changing, but he didn't want to lose the girls' company either. The ploy worked, thus beginning a lifelong pattern that would continue through 20 years of dating and 18 years of marriage.
Okay, so you figured out who the boy was. Good thing my wife doesn't read the blog. She'd probably curse me all the way back to Brooklyn.
I bring all this up because I've often wondered if cursing is acceptable in the workplace. In my experience, most high-tech executives curse, some more than others. Moreover, there appears to be a general acceptance of a wide variance of behavior, from political correctness to the truly vulgar.
In fact, a recent study suggests that swearing in the workplace may have some benefits. According to the researchers, by expressing feelings and frustration, cursing provides a mechanism for relieving stress.
Of course, if one person's swearing stresses everyone else out, that kind of defeats the purpose. A boss, for example, angrily cursing out an employee, is certainly not condoned by the research.
The study also indicates that swearing enhances group cohesiveness by creating and maintaining solidarity among the workers. The caveat, of course, is that workers shouldn't curse in front of customers. That would be a bad thing.
The research group's general message to corporate executives is this: if you're considering prohibiting cursing in the workplace, you should think twice because it might backfire on you.
FYI, the study was conducted by researchers at the University of East Anglia and published in the Leadership and Organization Development Journal by Emerald Publishing, all in the U.K.
My question for all of you is how do you feel about profanity in the workplace? Is it acceptable or not, and if so, to what extent?
There's a great suspense movie called Jagged Edge with Glenn Close and Jeff Bridges. Here, Close's character, Teddy, gets annoyed with her friend Sam's incessant cursing:
Teddy: Did your mother ever wash your mouth out with soap and water?
Sam: Yeah, but it didn't do any f***ing good.
Like it or not, when it comes to cursing in the workplace, I'm with Sam.