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Your Office Guide to Swearing At Work

Is there a place for swearing in the @#$%-ing office?




There are many problems with profanity. It’s jarring. It’s potentially offensive. It can seem a little familiar. But there are many wonderful things about profanity, too. It’s jarring. It’s potentially offensive.

It can seem a little familiar… and unhinged… and manic. But there are times – in business and in life – when unhinged and manic are exactly what you need to be. But before we figure out how to utilise profanity, let’s figure out why it’s so powerful.

According to Melissa Mohr, author of the fascinating book Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing, we all have profane thoughts – it’s just that our brains typically knock them down before we say them.

Consider the 10% to 30% percent of Tourette’s syndrome patients who suffer from coprolalia, the uncontrollable utterance of obscene words.

Related: This Advice Is For You, Smart-Ass

Mohr writes: “Many people have such thoughts, but their prefrontal cortex – the executive area of their brains – overrides and shuts them down.

“The current theory is that people with Tourette’s syndrome have a problem in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia, which plays a role in making choices among several actions and inhibiting certain motor functions. The executive areas of their brains can fight against their limbic urges for a time… but eventually the lower brain wins.”

Unfiltered language

So it’s not that people with coprolalia have more profane thoughts; it’s that they’re unable to prevent them from being spoken. Profanities aren’t added to our thoughts – they’re there all along. When we utter a profanity, we’re not adding to our language, we’re simply not suppressing it.

Profanities represent honest, authentic thoughts, and hearing them is a powerful, memorable thing. As Mohr points out, when US college professor Timothy Jay gave subjects a list of 36 ‘taboo’ and ‘non-taboo’ words, the top five the subjects recalled were from the first category.

The good kind of profanity

Not that many people want to go on record saying it, but there is a good kind of profanity.

Mikael Berner, co-founder and CEO of US-based app company Mountain View, says of his company, “We don’t have a hard and fast rule about swearing, but we do have a hard and fast rule about being respectful to others. Swearing can express surprise and delight, and it can also be derogatory – and if it’s used in that latter fashion, it’s unacceptable.”

But then he told us a story about a business he had worked at where his manager was adored by the employees.

“He was a really good leader, and he served customers well. For some reason swearing was part of the culture. I don’t know how they never managed to make it seem derogatory, but I never experienced it that way.”

The reason it didn’t seem derogatory is that it probably wasn’t derogatory. This is the good kind of profanity. And what good profanity can uncover is, well, goodness, not badness. This is profanity spoken out of joy, excitement, comfort. Even if it’s spoken out of frustration, its goal is to bring people closer and get them excited.

The test is: Are you smiling when you say it? Even if you’re not smiling on the outside, are you smiling on the inside? If there’s no smiling, then what you’re getting involved in is menace.

The bad kind

The bad kind is very, very bad. The fact that you’re using profanity is almost incidental; it’s the tone of your voice that’s most important – whether you sound like you’re angry.

If you’re attempting to bluster around and freak people out, profanity is only going to accentuate the fact that you’re out of control. And out of control may work in the short-term to shut people down or motivate them, but in the long-term things will break down. The awful residue of angry profanity isn’t worth the momentary relief.

This is why most people say not to use it. Ever. Even the guy who wrote a book about it says not to do it, mainly because of the historical volatility of the words themselves. Says Jesse Sheidlower, editor of The F-Word: “The important thing is how words are used, not how they have been used historically.

“Things may become less offensive over time, as with almost everything. But any racial or ethnic or religious term referring to a specific group has become vastly more offensive over time. If I were running a company, I would always take a cautious approach.”

Here’s a cautious approach: Don’t do it. Unless.

Unless what you’re saying could be made funnier, more entertaining, more memorable, more honest, more authentic. Because when profanity is used the right way, what you’re granting is honesty and friendship.

For your professional associates, profanity is a window into what you’re actually thinking. When you’re forcefully making a point via the employment of an expletive, you’re bringing people closer to you and letting them in.

But what does the lawyer say?

We spoke with Michael Zweig, partner at New York’s Loeb & Loeb, to find out the legal issues related to profanity in the workplace.

What are the possible legal issues surrounding profanity in a work environment?

You make yourself a target for future litigation if you know an individual is highly sensitised to certain types of speech, and it’s repeated. If a particular individual is subjected to speech on a repeated basis after making it known that it is offensive to them, it could be regarded then as personal and directed at that person, as opposed to the environment in general.

We’d never do that. Mostly we just yell out profanities due to excitement.

With entrepreneurs it may be an open office environment, and someone may have a primal scream from their desk that may be disruptive or inappropriate, but it would not reasonably be seen as being directed at a particular employee.

If, on the other hand, you’re using sexualised words, frequent usages of those words and behaviour may be taken as sexual harassment or creation of a hostile environment.

Use common sense.

Bottom line? Profanity need not be excised from the workplace completely.

Key Technical Matters

Everyone has profane thoughts. It’s just that most of the time, our brain’s prefrontal cortex shuts them down. In our professional lives, the prefrontal cortex is working very, very hard.

When employing a string of profanities, it’s best not to jump up and down, Yosemite Sam’s communication approach notwithstanding.

  • It’s okay to say frickin’. It’s okay to say frackin’. It’s not okay to say frickin’ fracking.’ Unless of course you’re talking about fracking, the process by which rock layers are fractured by pressurised liquid in order to release petroleum or gas, in which case frickin’ frackin’ is the funniest possible way to refer to the subject.
  • Dadgummit! works only if you’re from the Deep South.
  • Curses! Works only if you’re from the 19th century.
  • $#&*% works only in cartoons. “Dollar sign, pound sign, ampersand, asterisk, percentage” is not an effective profanity when spoken aloud.
  • Either say it or don’t say it. ‘What the F?’ No. ‘You gotta be S-ing me.’ No. ‘When the K did you get here?’ No. (What does K stand for anyway?)
  • What the hey? Absolutely not.
  • What the H-E-double hockey sticks? We’re not even going to dignify that with a [expletive deleted] response.

Disclaimer No. 1:

This column will assume that your every professional move is not determined by a team of lawyers who are advising you that any use of profanity — especially ‘sexualised’ profanity — could result in a lawsuit.

Disclaimer No. 2:

The writer of this column works in an office in which profanity isn’t frowned upon. Mainly because it’s fun and, sometimes, funny. (For instance, there are two ways to say, “Hand me that stapler,” and only one is amusing.)

Disclaimer No. 3:

If you’re reading this column to find out whether or not to use profanity around customers, the answer is: No [expletive deleted] way.

Related: 9 Reasons to Quit Your Job As Soon As You Can

Managing Staff

How To Build Better Employee Engagement

Here are my 10 tips for managers wishing to build real engagement.

Dr John Demartini




Everything begins with values; with the top three highest priorities in an individual’s life. These are the source of that person’s primary purpose and the underlying determinants of their perceptions, decisions and behaviours.

In the context of managers wanting to help their teams to develop mindsets geared towards connection, conversation and experimentation, within a healthy environment, the process must begin with value determination.

Advice for managers

Here are my 10 tips for managers wishing to build real engagement:

  1. Write down the job duties that your people actually have: Their current, accurate, and most up-to-date daily action steps.
  2. Spend some time determining what their values are. You can use the free online tool on my website –
  3. Once you have determined your highest values (the three things that are most important to you in your life, where you demonstrate your greatest discipline, reliability, focus and productivity), you’ll need to find the links between employees’ job duties (Step 1) and their highest values. This is a very specific and detailed step, unpacked below.
  4. The question to ask is, “How specifically will performing this particular job duty help me to fulfill my current top three values?”


Let’s say one of your team members is a payroll administrator. Her job duties might include: checking how many hours employees have worked; calculating and issuing pay; deducting tax and other benefits; processing leave and expenses; calculating overtime; answering staff queries; and giving advice.

Let’s presume one of her top three highest-order values is her children. The way to connect what she does with what she values is to ask questions like these, in order to make links and help her see them in context:

  • Does working with numbers help you teach your children to pay attention to detail?
  • Does making calculations help you help your children with homework?
  • Does knowing the art of fair exchange give you a lesson to teach your children?
  • By doing your work, are you earning the income you need to fund your children’s education?
  • If it’s tedious work but you don’t give up, is that good role modelling for your children?
  • Does knowing about money management, and sharing this with your colleagues, help them to help their own children?
  • Does advising others make you better at giving your children counsel?

Related: Why Conflict Resolution Is A Matter Of Matching Values

  1. The magic number to shoot for is 20 links, not seven. Once you get to 20, for some reason, it ‘clicks’ and people can see that what they do every day is (or can be) valuable and meaningful. Be aware that some links are harder to find than others. Some are obvious; some, more tenuous.
  2. Look for fluency. If the employee hesitates or can’t answer the question easily or at all, this is a sign that the job duty is incongruent with their highest values and they are not going to be inspired about that particular duty. (In this case, keep asking them how that specific duty would or could help them to fulfil their highest values, until they can see a connection.)
  3. This is a big job. Value determination and link creation can take a whole day or more, the first time you do it, depending on the size of your team.
  4. To create better connections between your people, use the same process to cross-link others’ three highest values with your three highest values. Go through the entire team, making a list of values across everyone you manage. Look at the common threads. This will help you achieve more equitable leadership, better management and healthier relationships.
  5. For better work conversations, remember that dialogue comes from equal values (or else you simply have alternating monologue). Employees must know each other’s values. You, the manager, must master the skill of communicating your high-priority intentions, expectations and delegations in terms of each employee’s top three values.
  6. Intrinsically, people love solving problems that align with their values, so fulfilling their values will give them the courage to experiment.

Remember: People go to work every day to fulfill themselves, not for the sake of a company. For this reason, managers must enable their people to explicitly connect their own values with their everyday, real-world job duties, so that they become engaged, feel grateful for their collegial support system, and are inspired to go beyond the call of duty and to innovate.

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Managing Staff

6 Ways To Break Bad News To Your Team

We asked six leaders: How did you handle sharing the hardest news of your career?





Being the bearer of bad news is never fun. But there comes a time in everyone’s lives, when they’ve got to step up to the plate. This is especially true in business. When you’re in a leadership position at a company, knowing how to deliver bad news is a crucial skill. To help you out, we asked six leaders for their advice on delivering bad news to teams.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. With a promise

“After the economic meltdown of 2008, we couldn’t afford to keep everyone on staff. Picking who stays and who goes is one of the most difficult decisions you have to make as CEO. I delivered the news with honesty and empathy at an all-hands meeting. We gave some severance, referral to an employment service and a personal reference. We also gave the option to rejoin our team once things were back on track, and some did! It was a homecoming of sorts, a healing moment.” – Ori Eisen, founder and CEO, Trusona 

2. With support

“In 2016, our office manager passed away. She was only 26. We called a mandatory meeting, let everyone know, and brought in grief counselors. The hardest part was controlling my own emotions in front of the company. This was a crucial moment, and the team needed a leader. We organised a memorial service to celebrate her life. It took time for the business to return to a normal cadence, but her impact remains at the company today.” – Rahul Gandhi, co-founder and CEO, MakeSpace

Related: 22 Qualities That Make A Great Leader

3. With transparency

“In New York, construction delays are as common as yellow taxis. But when you’re working to open a new restaurant location and have promoted staff to run it, construction delays don’t impact just revenue but your team’s livelihood as well. Delaying promotions for people who have worked hard to earn them is tough news to deliver. But we invited the team to the construction site to see the space and ask questions, and it helped everyone get on the same page.” – Otto Cedeno, founder, Otto’s Tacos

4. With community

“The worst news my husband and I had to share with our employees, and kids, was that we’d decided to move our business from New York to Los Angeles. We gave employees the option to stay with us and relocate. Some came west, and others did not. We couldn’t guarantee that those who moved with us would love L.A., but we promised to figure it out together.” – Cortney Novogratz, co-founder, The Novogratz

5. With a plan

“One of my first experiences as an entrepreneur was running a restaurant, which I closed as a result of 2008’s downturn. I knew this was going to be life-changing for my team. We did everything we could to ease the disruption, and I leveraged my network to place laid-off employees in new positions – nearly 90 percent had jobs in just a few weeks. As a business owner, failure is hard, but it’s an opportunity to prove yourself as a leader.” – Michael Wystrach, co-founder and CEO, Freshly 

Related: 15 Of South Africa’s Business Leaders’ Best Advice For Your Business

6. With reason

“After I joined Interactions as CEO, my team and I identified significant roadblocks in our product development. We had been on an aggressive growth track, but it was clear we needed to right the ship. I told my board and team that we were shutting down sales to double down on R&D. Hitting pause was an incredibly hard decision, but it was necessary to ensure we were providing the best product and experience for our customers.” – Mike Iacobucci, CEO, Interactions

This article was originally posted here on

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Managing Staff

Why Small Businesses Are Unable To Pay Staff Salaries

Let’s look at it from a different angle and see if we’ll arrive at that same conclusion.

Matthew Mordi




We’ve heard countless times the constant conflict between employers and employees over non-payment of salaries. Small business owners complain employees don’t understand what they have to go through to ensure the payment of staff salaries.

The moment they’re unable to meet up with the payment of staff salaries, workers accuse them of being wasteful when business was booming. So the age old story of members of staff not being understanding comes up again. The cost of running the business which includes maintenance of machinery, rents, paying off loans; all these and much more which sums up overhead cost.

While it’s true that overhead cost is usually the main challenge of small businesses, it’s true only in part. Let’s look at it from a different angle and see if we’ll arrive at that same conclusion.

Usually a lot of small business owners don’t save for the rainy day, neither do they invest income generated by the business for the benefit of the business. Personal savings and investment isn’t the same with that of the business. Small business owners tend to save and invest income generated by the business in their personal names.

Related: Start-Up Law:  I’m A Start-up Founder. Can I Pay Employees With Shares?

Let’s look at this scenario:

Mr A. is the owner of a grocery shop. People are patronising the business. Business is booming, everything seems perfect. At this point there is usually no problem paying salaries and overhead. This is the tricky part, what the employer does with the income the business is generating at this point apart from ploughing the money back into the business will decide whether he’ll be able to pay salaries when business is slow.

One would expect the owner of the store to not only save but also invest some of the income made by the business.

This is usually not the case because it’s at this point of booming business and perceived excess cash that the owner remembers he’ll pay himself more than he usually does (and that is if he pays himself salary), needs to move to a bigger apartment or better still, buy a bigger car.

The moment there is downturn in sales as a result low patronage, the problem of payment of staff salary begins. Mr A. makes it clear to his employees that the business isn’t turning in a profit and he’s using his personal money to pay staff salary. Therefore, he can’t keep on doing it and he’ll have to owe salaries.

This could have been avoided.

Do diligent – don’t dilly dally

What happened to the excess profit of years before? It’s obvious the employer hadn’t been diligent with the funds. Instead of investing the money to ensure it generates further income for the benefit of the business for the rainy day, the employer would instead use the profit for his own personal benefit.

If Mr A. had saved the money and income generated by his grocery store in preparation for the rainy day, the company wouldn’t be caught up in the quagmire it was put in.

A business is a separate entity from the founder, whether it’s a small or a large corporation they should stay so; separate. I’m not talking about the technicalities of whether it’s a company or business name. We have to realise that in order for the business to not only survive but also succeed, it must be separate from the owner.

This is one aspect small businesses must learn from large corporations with sound financial plan. There are times these corporations declare losses, yet they’re able to pay salaries! Money made by the business should be for the business. It’s not the time to buy that new car. If employers work with the mindset of paying themselves salaries (not excessive), it would go a long way to ensure the business is afloat even during uncertain economic times.

Related: How To Structure A Fair Salary That Will Motivate Your Sales Team

In fairness, some employers who own small businesses have been exceptional in this regard. However, the fact is, majority of small business owners don’t function with this mindset. Businesses, just like it obtains in our personal lives, have their ups and downs. The things you do or don’t do during the ups are equally as important as what you do during the downs. Save, save and save. You can’t go wrong with this. Invest, invest and invest. You can’t go wrong with this either.

That profit isn’t for spending; at least not yet. Invest the money like you would do with yours. Invest it in the name of the business. Let your business own shares in other businesses. This is sound business practice.

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