Profanity in the workplace used to relegated to dimly-lit smoke-filled testosterone-raging boardrooms, but has become more mainstream in recent years. Call me old-fashioned, but this strikes me as an unfortunate trend. Those who habitually curse and swear are not gaining respect and influence as they might imagine, and may in fact be hurting their careers. The following quote from President Ulyssis S. Grant sheds some light on the folly of swearing:

I never learned to swear. When a boy I seemed to have an aversion to it, and when I became a man I saw the folly of it. I have always noticed, too, that swearing helps to rouse a man’s anger; and when a man flies into a passion his adversary who keeps cool always gets the better of him. In fact, I could never see the use of swearing. I think it is the case with many people who swear excessively that it is a mere habit, and they do not mean to be profane; but to say the least, it is a great waste of time.*

The problems with swearing:

  • People who curse are relying on the effect of the curse words to give power to their message rather than the idea itself. If the message is worth listening to, it does need to be laced with curse words to get the other person’s attention.
  • Excessive swearing rouses anger and makes contructive debate more difficult. The “cool head” usually wins.
  • Excessive swearing demonstrates that a person is either incapable of self-control or is insensitive to the feelings of others.

All of which begs a question: Can “excessive profanity” and “effective leadership” co-exist?

* Kaltman, Al, “Cigars, Whiskey and Winning: Leadership Lessons from General Ulysses S. Grant” (Prentice Hall Press, 2000), p 10.