Cursing in the Workplace

Can you get fired for cursing at work?

By Alina Dizik,
July 25, 2011 9:07 a.m. EDT
Even if you do great work, cursing can have an impact on your ability to get promoted.
Even if you do great work, cursing can have an impact on your ability to get promoted.

( — If you’re cursing at work, be careful. While it’s commonplace to curse once in a while and may even help you build a bond with co-workers, there’s a fine line to when and how you curse.

“We are being judged constantly by our co-workers for how we do our work and how we interact with them,” says etiquette expert Cynthia Lett. “Cursing is an aggressive and hostile way of expressing oneself.”

Companies where employees are constantly in front of customers are especially harsh when it comes to foul language — employees caught cursing can be in trouble. Not sure where you stand when it comes to cursing? Here’s how foul language at work can impact your career:

Reveal an unprofessional attitude

In some professions cursing is accepted and can even help you fit in to an environment, perhaps in high-pressure jobs where everyone needs to let off some steam. Constantly using foul language, however, can make it difficult to fit into a professional environment, says Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of “The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength.”

“Perceptions are important in shaping your career — you don’t want to be seen as that foul-mouthed person,” she says. Be especially careful about your language when surrounded by several co-workers at once — such as during meetings or when working in teams.

Prevent real communication

Using curse words over and over again can prevent you from truly communicating what you’re trying to say. Instead of cursing, take the time to figure out how to let your co-workers understand what you’re really thinking. Even if you’re angry or upset, take time to develop a professional communication strategy. “Cursing is an aggressive and hostile way of expressing one’s self,” Lett says.

Furthermore it can create a distance between you and the others in your department because it makes others uncomfortable. “When people are uncomfortable around someone they avoid them whenever possible,” she explains.

Hamper your image

Similar to a disheveled appearance or tardiness, foul language can impact the way you’re perceived by others in the workplace. Even if you do great work, cursing can have an impact on your ability to get promoted or get better job responsibilities.

“You need to be aware of how you present yourself to your co-workers, superiors and clients,” says Suzanne Lucas, a writer and human resources expert. “Swearing when books get dropped on your toes or the copier dies on you is one thing, peppering your daily conversation with expletives is another.”

Repercussions from human resources

Just because no one in your department comments on your use of foul language, doesn’t mean it’s going unnoticed. In some instances it can be reported to human resources with an official warning.

Sometimes it can even get you fired. “Someone who works customer facing [roles] — such as retail or sales or call centers — would be fired for swearing, as it’s not appropriate with a customer,” Lucas says.

Of course not everyone gets fired. And as you evaluate your behavior, cursing once in a while is no cause for alarm. “We all get angry and frustrated and using a curse word can be the best release available,” says Kahnweiler. “Just be aware that this language shouldn’t become your M.O. or you could be seen as lacking self control.”

© 2010. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority.

On-Air Interview with Cynthia Lett and Andi Marshall of KFWB News/Talk 980

The Five Skills Students Need To Be Successful In Business

Etiquette in School FoundationFor a while I have been interested in how to teach students before they reach high school the skills they will need to be successful in their social and work lives. This article by Heather Wolpert-Gawron who teaches middle school language arts and coaches speech and debate in California’s San Gabriel Unified School District, caught my eye and I thought it would be interesting to you too. ( She blogs at TweenTeacher and is a member of the Teacher Leaders Network. She is currently at work on her second book for Eye On Education Publishing and is also writing workbooks for grades 3 through 6 on project-based writing for Teacher Created Resources.)   The Etiquette in School Foundation has the mission to work etiquette training into the school curriculum.  I believe Ms. Wolpert-Gawron has the same mission.

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Build Relationships Early for Job Success

This article from one of my favorite go-to places for employment info (no – I have no intention of working for anyone but me anymore) for my clients is . If you have a new job or are seeking how to move ahead, business etiquette training from The Lett Group and employment advice from TheLadders is a great combination.

Job No. 1 at your new workplace: Identify the ”go-to” people in your new company, and listen to their guidance.

May 2, 2011
By Debra Donston-Miller
On the JobAfter the very big job of finding a new job is complete, it’s time to relax, right? Wrong. Your first 90 days in a new position are critical, especially when it comes to relationship building. What you do or overlook during this time can color your entire tenure with a company — or even cut it short, if missteps during this period are big enough.After you have waded through all the forms and orientation materials, you’ll likely want to roll up your sleeves and jump immediately into your work. While the sentiment is admirable (especially if the managers you interviewed with wanted someone who could “hit the ground running”), you’ll be doing yourself and your new employer a disservice if you start making moves at the expense of establishing effective relationships. Experts told TheLadders that early work to establish relationships will pay off handsomely down the line.

The first few days on the job are no time to be a shrinking violet. “My advice to new employees is first and foremost to get in there and start meeting people,” said TyAnn Osborn, director of human resources at the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. “Don’t just show up and sit in your cube.”

Go to the go-to people

While you’re doing all that meeting and greeting, be on the lookout for the “go-to” people — the ones who know how to get certain jobs done, no matter where those people fit on the org chart. How do you find them? Osborn recommends asking the following leading question after meeting any new person: “Whom do you recommend I speak to now and get to know?” You’ll know you’ve hit on a go-to person when several new acquaintances answer with the same name and say, “Oh, you have to speak with … !”

Now that you’ve identified the go-to people, go to them. Dr. Kevin D. Gazzara, who took early retirement from chip giant Intel and now runs leadership-consulting firm Magna Leadership Solutions, said you should begin cultivating relationships with those go-to people early on. During his early days at Intel, Gazzara said, he made it a point to understand the structure of the division in which he worked and set up meetings with the people who seemed to be setting the tone. “This allowed me to develop a relationship with them, and I could also do a bit of selling of my talents, interests and do some positive internal marketing of the organization I had joined,” he said.

It is also helpful if you can get your hands on an org chart. Most org charts are fuzzy outlines at best, but it’s important to get a sense of who works with whom, who manages whom, who has a dotted line to whom, and so on. Deciphering these relationships early on will help you better understand and more effectively work within the organization.

Of course, the relationship you want built on the strongest foundation possible is your relationship with your boss. Experts recommend putting the shoe on the other foot and “interviewing” your manager — on Day One, if possible. “Find out what makes them tick, why they joined in the first place and, most importantly, what their priorities are so these become your priorities too,” said Osborn.

Experts also recommend that early conversations with your manager involve the development of a 30/60/90-day plan that clearly states what you intend to accomplish in your first three months. While this is a common best practice, you can show your manager — and your colleagues — your focus on collaboration and your ability and willingness to tap others’ expertise by incorporating ideas and suggestions (with appropriate credit) from the meetings you set up during your first days and months on the job.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice for your first 90 days is to establish yourself as a team player by doing more listening than speaking, said Deirdre McEachern, a certified career coach at VIPCoaching. “Too many new employees fall into the trap of trying to prove their worth by offering unsolicited opinions or making odious comparisons to ‘how we did it at my last job,’ ” she said. “Employers and fellow employees want to know you are on their team now and that you are 100 percent committed. The best way to prove your worth is to be a focused listener to your teammates around you. ”

The author, Debra Donston-Miller covers work-life issues and difficult job-search situations for TheLadders.

Why Won’t They Call You Back?

by Marc Cenedella (Founder and CEO of

Marc Cenedella

Why haven’t they called you back?

The interview went well — you’re pretty sure you nailed that question about how you could contribute to the team’s new mobile initiative — and you really hit it off with the HR person. You’ve got a background in exactly the area they’re looking for and you know you’re perfectly qualified for the role.

So why haven’t they called you back? After all, it’s already been two whole days! Don’t they realize that you’d be perfect and you’re just itching to go?

To paraphrase John Wayne, “Now hold on just a minute there, pilgrim.” (Or maybe that’s Robin Williams impersonating John Wayne, I’m getting my childhood TV mixed up…)

I know you are very, very excited and very eager to find your next role. After all, you deserve it!

But you need to be aware of the company’s timing as much as your own. Of course, because more than one person is involved in the decision, there will be a hiring process. Feedback needs to be collected, budgets need to be consulted, and meetings must be held.

All of which takes time.

So expecting that you’ll be getting feedback or another interview request the very next day after your visit is just a bit unrealistic. As a matter of fact, expecting and assuming that they’ll be following up at all is probably unrealistic these days. You’ll need to be proactive and do the following-up yourself after a reasonable amount of time has passed.

What’s a reasonable time frame? It’s long enough so that it doesn’t seem you’re breathing down their necks, and it’s soon enough so that they don’t think you’ve forgotten.

My advice is to wait a week between call-backs.

Just put it in your calendar — after you’ve had a call, an interview, an e-mail — just jot a note to yourself to follow up seven days later. And forget about it until then — fretting doesn’t make it better.

What should your follow-up calls (better) or e-mails (OK) read like?

“Hi, Mrs. Lee, I had such a wonderful time speaking with you last week and I think I could contribute a lot to Acme. So I’m just following up on our conversations and would love to hear back from you. You can reach me at this phone or that e-mail address.”


“Hello, Tom. When we met three weeks ago I mentioned how Ink, Inc. would be a great opportunity to apply my software development management skills in an industry I’m familiar with. So I would very much appreciate the chance to connect and hear what you’re thinking about my candidacy. You can reach me at this phone number.”

In each conversation, you’re trying to remind them of the three Es: you exist, you’re excited, and you’re expecting to hear back from them.

You exist. Now, of course, you haven’t forgotten this since you last spoke with Mrs. Lee or Tom Pruitt, but you know what?, they might have forgotten about you. And it’s not because you’re insignificant or not qualified or not wanted. It’s just with hiring on the upswing, and HR departments and recruiters still under-staffed from the recession, they don’t have time to follow up with all of the people they’ve spoken with. So a gentle reminder that “Hey, I’m here” can remind them of how much they liked you.

You’re excited. Sometimes the candidate with the consistent and persistent enthusiasm can get the nod just for showing sustained interest. Make sure you communicate why you’re interested in the role and why you’d be great.

You’re expecting. Don’t ask them to call back “only” if they’re interested or “only” if there’s an update. You burned up a good few minutes of your time doing the favor of reaching out to them, so ask them to give the favor back in return. Go ahead and politely suggest the return call — it will give you a chance to get them back on the phone, sell yourself some more, and find out what the scoop is on their side.

Also, it’s worth mentioning for good order that there are also three Es you want to avoid. You don’t want to tell them that you’re enraged that you haven’t got the job yet, over eager because you’ve got nothing else going on, or an egomaniac who thinks they should feel lucky that you’re considering them. Nobody wants to hire an angry, desperate jerk.

Keep calling back each week, politely and persistently.

If you’ve got the patience of Job and the stamina of Lou Gehrig, then keep at this for 8-10 weeks. But for most folks, I suggest limiting it to 5. If they haven’t called you back after five weeks, then you probably aren’t going to be hearing from them after 10, and your time is best spent elsewhere. (But don’t give up after three, which is what too many people do — I’ve seen too much luck created on those fourth and fifth calls for you to skip them!)

Law Firm Partners Share Insight about Annoying Habits of Associates

If you are a lawyer in the Washington, DC area, especially an Associate in a firm, I highly recommend attending this luncheon event from the DC

Bar Association

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