Swearing has always been around, and for good reason. It helps to blow off steam and, indeed, is sometimes the only fitting response to a situation. But there is a time and a place.

Share story

Swearing has always been around, and for good reason. It helps to blow off steam and, indeed, is sometimes the only fitting response to a situation.

But there is a time and a place. And that place should really not be the workplace. Swearing sounds unprofessional. Plus, employees who swear frequently run the risk of being viewed by management as impulsive, immature or irrational. Despite this, however, bad language is increasingly being heard in more kinds of workplaces.

It’s a big, bad world out there, and you might find yourself working in close quarters with co-workers who use some questionable language. Is there anything you can do?

Of course, you can’t order your co-workers to stop swearing. You can ask the boss to intercede, but then you risk being seen as a person who’s afraid to speak up or who expects management to solve every little issue.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

First, try the direct route: “Please stop swearing. It’s distracting.” If it applies, add, “And it offends the customers.”

If this doesn’t work, look for support. You might not be the only person who is turned off by a barrage of F-bombs. Band together with other employees and, as a group, ask the offender to give it a rest.

But what if you’re the only one who is offended? Here’s where things can get a bit tricky. After all, one person’s profanity can be another person’s everyday mode of expression. You can try avoiding the offender, wearing headphones or moving your workstation.

If none of that works, your best bet is to make a heartfelt personal plea. Try saying, “I know four-letter words don’t bother everyone. But they make me feel very uncomfortable. Would you mind toning it down while I’m around? I’d really appreciate it.”

You’re not criticizing, you’re not judging, you’re not telling the person to quit swearing completely. You’re just asking, as a personal favor, that the swearing not be done around you. If you do this in a friendly, sincere fashion, it just might work.

If you need to take the problem to the bosses — which is, after all, why they make the big bucks — you’ll be able to say you’ve tried everything first.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at wg@karenburnsworkinggirl.com.