Paul Butler: When did we become so OK with foul language

Paul Butler, Newleaf Training and Development. Submitted photo

I was riding on the paseos recently with my friend Tom and we came to a standstill at the end of our ride, to say our goodbyes. Two young women, one pushing a stroller came walking past us and one of the “ladies” was dropping F-bombs, as she was describing someone or something she was unhappy with.

She had quite a loud, booming voice and other people walking by could hear her and were rolling their eyes and turning their heads back, aghast at the vile diatribe coming out of this young mother’s mouth.

I decided to ask her if she could mind her language and maybe use different adjectives to describe her frustration. I thought it would help if I pointed out she had little ears in the stroller. My theory didn’t go down too well, as she immediately pounced on me verbally and began directing her verbal spew towards me. Tom was like, “Dude, not a good move.”

Have you noticed that vile language and a lack of common courtesy is becoming more common? When did bad language become more socially acceptable?

I’m starting to hear foul and disgusting language even more now in the workplace. In my mind, what makes it even worse is when I hear it from senior leaders, as they set the tone for the organizational culture.

I was in a client meeting recently and the Chief Operating Officer started dropping F-bombs, to express his frustration about a situation. I was about to deliver a keynote address for another client a couple of weeks ago and our client contact, (who happens to be the Human Resources Director for Diversity and Inclusion), started using vile language to describe how much she hated her boss.

This doesn’t seem to be a generational or gender problem. And therein, lies the rub — is bad language still regarded as taboo, or is it now deemed good for us to let off steam by using such horrid language?

I decided to raise this with one of our other clients over lunch. I won’t name the organization but she works for a well-known, federally funded research and development center that’s a household name. The lady I am referring to is very smart. She has a master’s degree in organizational development and works in human resources at a very senior level.

After sharing my observations with her about the increasing use of bad language in general discourse and especially within the workplace, she rather patronizingly told me that the use of colorful language has been now scientifically proven to be a good way of letting of steam. She continued by explaining to me it can be an effective way of the distributor of such diatribe to “let go” and “distress.”

I was stunned when she said, her organization now actively encourage their leaders to swear in meetings as they believe it creates a better, more inclusive and healthier culture. Huh?

Driving home, her high fluting suggestions were racing through my feeble mind and it occurred to me there seemed to be no recognition whatsoever of how the person on the receiving end of the foul language was impacted. It all seemed to be about how the person dishing out the dirt felt.

Call me old-fashioned but it seems like we’ve come to a sad states of events, when “bad” language is increasingly being regarded as “good” especially in a professional work setting. My advice is not to fall into the trap. Good is still “good” and bad is still “bad”. People innately know what’s “right” and what’s “wrong”. Light shines brighter when the darkness gets even darker.

So as an employee; a supervisor; a senior leader or an entrepreneur I encourage you to mind your language — little ears are listening.

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