Swearing at the office

One thing we always tell new interns at Agate is that the staff people here are fairly unrestrained when it comes to profanity. This article has some interesting things to say about the whole phenomenon of swearing at work, but doesn’t go into great depth as to how profanity–who uses it, when they use it, why they use it–affects the office environment at large. We try to be reasonably judicious about this kind of thing–usually, it’s deployed as an effective means of releasing one’s frustration with a difficult set of circumstances–but I find myself of two minds about it. Agate is a pretty informal place, and I hope it’s a place where people feel comfortable saying what they think. But in an informal workplace, it can often be difficult for new people (especially those new to the workforce overall) to get a good feel for the unwritten rules that shape office culture. It’s important for people to learn where the boundaries are–whether one is inclined to push those boundaries or to ensure one steers clear of them all together. After 30 years of contemplating these things, I find it’s typically better to default to discretion and good manners, if not outright formality, when it comes to oral communication, and we encourage new people here to keep that in mind–even as we let them know that on occasion they might overhear some ear-melting invective issuing from a few desks over (and maybe even mine). Like most matters of language usage and communication, whether you use profanity is all about knowing your audience.

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