A couple of weeks’ ago, I took my young son to a local park.
It was early evening and the park was full of teenagers, messing around and having a good time. One of them swore and my son ran over to tell them off:
“Hey you! Stop swearing!” he yelled.
They were a pleasant bunch of kids really and apologised immediately.
They looked mortified and maybe a little surprised that I didn’t have a go at them for swearing in front of my child. It wasn’t the right moment to explain about my son’s learning disability (he has autism), or tell them about the time I had to seek advice when he went through a phase of dropping the F-Bomb at inappropriate moments.
But it did get me thinking about the use of swear words in a professional environment and, especially, on social media and business blogs.
Has swearing become an acceptable part of business? Or do offenders run the risk of losing business or missing out on job opportunities and promotions?
When you think about it, swear words really are just an arrangement of vowels and consonants, so why do we get so hot under the collar about them?
They’re just words, right?
Swearing is actually believed to be good for us. There’s evidence to suggest that swearing is just as effective as medicine for relieving pain (child birth anyone?)
It can also be a form of relaxation. In fact, a recent spoof meditation video that featured some naughty words went viral last year. Many people (myself included) found that they felt strangely relaxed after listening to it. Because it was funny. And laughter is good for us.
But the truth is, while swearing may have some health benefits, it ain’t getting the same kudos as yoga any time soon.
It’s still taboo. And that can be a problem in business.
When I was in the corporate world (before Mummy hormones invaded my brain) it was a definite no-no to curse in the open-plan office (though I did have a kind boss who would allow me the occasional swear-fest in her private, executive office; I miss her).
Things have changed a lot since then. You only have to look at your peers on social media to see that swearing is openly used in tweets and blogs.
But I wonder if swearing goes against people in terms of gaining new clients or job opportunities? I asked a few of my nearest and dearest (who also happen to be awesome business people) for their views.
April (a 29 year old birthing specialist, self-development junkie and self-confessed potty mouth) is comfortable with the fact she swears on-line. As far as she’s concerned, it’s part of who she is. Get over it. She also feels passionately that she needs to be 100% herself in an industry that deals with raw emotions.
I admire her forthright approach, but I wonder if it works better on a millennial than someone my age (dark side of 40). And there’s a nagging doubt in my mind that she could be missing out on opportunities.
April pre-empts my question about the above concerns:
“Of course, some people will be offended by my language and that’s okay. To be honest, they’re probably not the kind of clients that I can work well with anyway.”
As far as she’s concerned, she knows her target audience and she wants to attract clients that she will click with. Can’t argue with that.
However, Paul (a 47 year old Customer Services Director) says that he would think twice about recruiting someone who swears on social media.
“It’s about trust in that person to make sound business decisions. I’m not personally offended by the words, but I question the judgement of someone who will use them without considering reputational damage; to themselves, as well as the business they represent.”
I’m divided on this one. On the one hand, I agree with Paul. Sound judgement is important. But I love the fact that the new generation of business people are comfortable in their own skin and happy to bring their whole self to work.
But, as Rachael (a therapist in her 50s) says:
“It really depends on your audience, but there are other ways to be approachable. Nobody actually requires you to swear, but some would prefer that you don’t. I don’t want to lose business or offend potential clients, so I keep my social media and blog clean.”
It seems there are no hard, fast rules when it comes to swearing on-line. Opinion is divided.
However, I think all of us would agree that there’s a big difference in swearing to relieve stress (“Shit. I stubbed my toe”) and swearing to be abusive. The latter is never acceptable.
There may be times when swearing creates more of an impact in your writing, conveys depth of feeling or builds rapport with your audience.
But it’s also worth considering your digital footprint and how this may affect your future, as well as your present.
Ultimately, as a professional, you have to make a judgement about whether swearing on-line will benefit your business or damage it.
It’s your call.
Over to you!
Do you think swearing on social media and business communications is acceptable? Or is it seriously unprofessional? Have you been put off by a potential business or job candidate due to their swearing? Or do we just need to get over it?
Until next time.
Alison is a Freelance Copywriter based in Milton Keynes. She specialises in web content and business blogging. For more information about Alison, click here.