Profanity and Interpersonal Competence

Today is Friday, so this post is on interpersonal competence.

I’ve mentioned “Women’s Edge” Magazine on this blog before.  It’s aimed at women in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, but I find that each issue is jam packed with useful information for men and women interested in building a successful life and career, no matter where they live.

The current issue has a great article on communication written by Linda Shields, author of the award-winning book “The Voice That Means Business: How to Speak With Authority, Confidence and Credibility.”  In this article, Ms. Shields addresses profanity as a communication problem.

I am not a prude, and I have uttered my share of expletives in my time.  But I always advise my clients that profanity does not help them create positive personal impact.  It can tag them as an inarticulate communicator.  And it is not the hallmark of interpersonally competent people.

Here is what Ms. Shields has to say:

“People who habitually use profanity are judged to be less sociable, less intelligent, less credible, less approachable and less attractive than someone who doesn’t curse.  While profanity rubs most people the wrong way, occasionally it rubs off on some.  You’ve probably noticed how conversations degenerate once someone uses profanity.  Like any other bad habit, people can get used to it – and habits are hard to break.
“As a speaker, I am especially careful of how I communicate in private conversations with friends and family.  If I habitually curse ‘in secret’ it will eventually slip out in public.  Speaking with authority does not include offensive language.”

I agree with Ms. Shields.  If you need to be profane to get your point across, you are not very articulate. 

Last week, I gave a talk to the Mile High Chapter of Optimist International.  I was discussing the points in “Straight Talk for Success.”  At the end of the talk, several people stayed around to chat.  One guy waited until the very end, and then said this.  “I find that a lot of the young people in my company curse a lot.  This bothers me.  Am I being old fashioned?  Is it OK to curse at work these days?  If it is, I don’t like it.”

I said, “It may be more acceptable to curse at work in 2008 than it was in 1958, but I still don’t think it is a good idea.  It can put off some people.  Also, it brands you as a person with a small vocabulary.”
Things are different today.  Many things that would have been considered socially unacceptable 50 years ago are perfectly acceptable today.  Cursing is one of them.  I often hear executives – both male and female — drop the “F word” in casual conversation.  On the other hand, things that were perfectly acceptable in 1958, are taboo today – like smoking in your office or in a meeting.

My take on profanity is simple.  It can be a barrier to building relationships.  In many cases, you are unlikely to know a person’s religious beliefs or moral code as you are building a relationship.  Why take a chance on ruining a potentially beneficial relationship before it gets started?  I curb my cursing in business and social situations.  Interestingly, I believe I am a better communicator for it.  My language is more precise – and I don’t run the risk of offending anyone.

The common sense point here is simple.  Interpersonally competent people build and nurture strong, mutually beneficial relationships with the important people in their lives.  Profanity can be a deal breaker when it comes to relationship building.  Successful people find ways to express themselves without resorting to profanity.  The next time you find yourself about to curse, stop and find a better, less offensive word that communicates better and more accurately.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website www.BudBilanich.com for more common sense and to subscribe to my weekly newsletter “Common Sense.” 

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

Bud   

PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to www.FirstGiving.com/TheCommonSenseGuy to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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Comments

  1. I’m glad you have addressed this issue. I’m shocked every time I hear educated people using such language, even in personal conversations, dropping the words in as if they are ordinary words! It makes me not want to associate with those people. I also teach my third-graders (in Morocco, who are receiving an English-language education) that in spite of all the words they see in the movies, that those words are not acceptable in real life if you want to be viewed as a lady or a gentleman (when you are adult).
    Madame Monet
    Writing, Painting, Music, and Wine
    winewriter.wordpress.com

  2. I’m glad you have addressed this issue. I’m shocked every time I hear educated people using such language, even in personal conversations, dropping the words in as if they are ordinary words! It makes me not want to associate with those people. I also teach my third-graders (in Morocco, who are receiving an English-language education) that in spite of all the words they see in the movies, that those words are not acceptable in real life if you want to be viewed as a lady or a gentleman (when you are adult).
    Madame Monet
    Writing, Painting, Music, and Wine
    winewriter.wordpress.com

  3. I’m glad to see this topic addressed. I was taught years ago that “profanity is the attempt of a feeble mind trying to express itself forcefully”. It’s unprofessional and disrespectful.

  4. Madame Monet, Tony:
    Thanks for your comments. I agree. There really is no need to be profane. As Tony says, it is both unprofessional and disrespectful.
    All the best,
    BB

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