My great-grandfather was a soft spoken man; he never uttered a swear word in his life. Until one day, in the middle of an argument, he said “D-mn it” and the world stopped. No one dared to breath and no one dared move. This man was mad. Not just mad, but furious.
Now compare that to Carol Bartz, former CEO of Yahoo!, who was famous for her profanity (caution: linked article includes strong language). One incident in particular stands out to me. This incident is when she declared on a live conference call with Wall Street analysts, “Nobody’s f-ing doing anything.” She then followed her exclamation with “Excuse me. I knew that would slip out one of these times.” Incidents like this were a PR nightmare for the company and many speculate that Carol’s language was part of the reason she was fired.
So let’s get to the “who cares” of the matter: you should. Who would you rather be? The man who grabs everyone’s attention and makes people listen or someone who is famous for not having enough self-control to prevent embarrassing herself and her company?
Some of you may be thinking that this approach is stuffy and outdated, but I have found that if you replace your swearing with language that has positive and meaningful content people will rarely find you stuffy. If you have to rely on the sensationalist tactics of foul language in order to avoid being stuffy you may want to consider learning how to improve as a conversationalist.
This is why I stopped swearing. I wanted people to focus on what I was saying, not which words were coming out of my mouth. I wanted to break myself of the habit so that I could use my language intentionally. Swearing is not only a bad habit, but one that has the potential to offend people around you and tells people you don’t have any self-control. It can even lead to losing your job as “thirty-eight percent of the managers who have fired employees for violating office etiquette cited cursing as the reason for the termination.”
There are a plethora of articles available on why swearing is good for you. Pain relief, control, retribution, humor, social bonding, self-expression and personal health are all reasons given in the article 7 Best Reasons for Swearing. The one thing that they all mention however is that most of these “benefits” only work if you don’t swear very often. “The key is to do it sparingly and not to get angry at the same time, which would be very bad for you—as well as terribly vulgar.” I would go a step further and claim that these benefits are irrelevant. The benefit of not swearing far surpasses the possibility of a brief surge of adrenaline or the self-satisfaction of “non-violent” retribution. That benefit is respect. Having the self-control to monitor your language and only swear when the situation calls for it gains the respect of those around you. Not only do you end up looking more professional and more in control, but no one will ever compare your language to the people on Jersey Shore.
How do you kick the habit? The first step of breaking any habit is to remove or limit triggers. For most people this means limiting the amount of swearing you hear in a day. Generally the easiest way to do this is by changing the media you are consuming. If you limit yourself to songs and movies without cussing in them you may be cutting the number of swear words you hear in a week by more than half. Ask your friends and family to limit their swearing around you. This doesn’t have to be an awkward conversation, simply tell them that you are trying to develop a more professional persona and it would help if they lessened the amount of swearing they did around you. The key is to not be condemning of their behavior (after all you were using the language too) as this can cause people to become defensive. You can also use replacements (“goodness gracious” is a personal favorite) just be careful to use these sparingly as the point of the exercise is to control which words you are using and not just blurt things out.
Ultimately you will find that you are no longer even thinking swear words anymore. You may even find that people will unconsciously stop swearing around you so that co-workers who don’t know you are trying to quit will stop swearing at work. I can tell you from personal experience that this makes for a calmer and less emotional environment. Once you have achieved the ability to stub your toe and shout “drat” instead of the alternative you can use your new found self-control to help break other bad habits.