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Memo: Please stop swearing in your work emails

Elizabeth Bromstein|

A few weeks ago, New York investment bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc. made the news for instructing employees to stop using profanity in e-mails and text messages. This led to an article in the Globe and Mail about profanity in the workplace in general. The gist? You probably shouldn’t use it. That makes sense.

A lot of people, myself included, would argue or have argued that people are far too uptight about the use of foul language. But the truth is that swearing in the workplace or in any social situation that may be a networking opportunity (so, MOST of them) isn’t going to do you any favours. A dirty mouth might not necessarily diminish your worth in another’s eyes, depending on the individual, but it might. And it’s very unlikely to elevate you (possible exceptions: Def Jam record label parties; brothels; Yahoo!). So, why take the chance? I say this as someone who has a mouth like a gangsta rapper.

Like any other habit, swearing can be hard to stop. So, how can we break the habit?…

James O’Connor, founder of the Cuss Control Academy gave me some tips. He started the “Academy” because he had a swearing problem himself. He hasn’t wiped it out completely but now he does it less, and he gives me the following tips for taming your tongue.

1. Recognize that swearing does damage: Most people think, “It’s just words. What’s the big deal?” They don’t recognize that it does offend people, other people judge you, and it reflects a lack of civility and manners. Also, it’s associated with negativity. Sure, it can be just for fun but it’s also associated with complaining, criticizing and name calling.

2. Think Positively: If you eliminate negative thoughts you will swear less.

3. Use alternative words: You can come up with an expletive to replace an expletive. But you can’t come up with just one word to substitute for all the many, many applications of certain words, like the “F” word, which is a noun, verb adjective etc. That’s one reason people use that word and the “SH” word so frequently. Both are extremely versatile. It’s simply lazy language. Use a different word.

You can find more tips here.

And, while we’re on the subject, another big problem? The use of “like” and “you know” being used all the freaking time in common parlance. It’s getting OUT OF CONTROL.

You do yourself an immense disservice when you do this. Yes, I do it too. But not nearly as much as most people. And I know it tends to be associated with younger people, but I also hear people in their 40s and 50s doing it. If you can, I suggest you stop.

Not everyone agrees with me. You can read more about the pro-”like” lobby here.

But if you choose to eradicate it from your vocabulary – when not referring to similarity or appreciation, of course — here are a few more tips:


      Be aware: Liz Holland of the Toronto-based

Career Council



      you have to be aware that you’re doing it. This is so true. I often


      point it out to friends and they apparently have NO IDEA. Holland


      suggests video taping yourself and getting friends to point it out to


      you. And DON’T get defensive or deny it. “You have to let people bring


      it up,” she says.

2. Find something else to do and condition yourself to do it. James Claiborn, a psychologist and author of The Habit Change Workbook: How to Break Bad Habits and Form Good Ones, suggests finding something else to do instead: “We call that a competing response. It has to be something that you can do in whatever situation you’re in when engaging in the problem behaviour, it needs to be something that is incompatible with the problem behaviour, so you can’t do both at the same time. Suppose, when you catch yourself about to say it, you gently bite your lip or do something with your mouth that is incompatible with talking.”

3. Breathe. Jay Miller, a Toronto speech coach says, “Most people, when they use filler words should instead be taking a breath and learning to be comfortable with that silent in breath instead of the filler word. Most people aren’t breathing enough when they speak.”

Eradicate swearing and filler words from your vocabulary and you’ll be more articulate and sound smarter, and probably, as a result be more successful. At least that’s, like, my #%&*% theory.

Category: Life At Work,