Damn! Co-workers who curse too much
My officemates use language that would make a dockworker blush. Is there any way to get them to tone it down? Plus: how to explain leaving work for a job interview.
By Anne Fisher, FORTUNE senior writer

(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: A friend of mine sent me a very funny column you wrote last summer about annoying workplace jargon ("Business Buzzwords that Make You Gag"), but I have a different problem. I work in an office with well-educated people who are perfectly capable of expressing themselves without recourse to foul language, yet every other word out of their mouths is f*** or sh** or some such. I have no problem with the occasional expletive, but this constant stream of obscenities is really starting to get on my nerves. Is it realistic to think that I can do anything about this, or should I just keep trying to tune it out? -Weary Ears

Dear Ears: I can't wait to hear what readers will have to say about this, but meanwhile, here are a few suggestions from Liz Ryan, the founder and CEO of WorldWIT, an online network of professional women. A few months ago, WorldWIT surveyed its 40,000 members and found that about 80% think workplace profanity has increased over the past five years, especially in environments where people are stressed out a lot of the time.

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Like you, most respondents weren't categorically opposed to the odd swear word - "Well-placed profanity has its place, if used sparingly," one wrote - but the majority did agree that constantly cussing a blue streak is unlikely to do anything good for one's career.

"Everyone has his or her own comfort level with strong language," says Ryan. "The best way to make your own tolerance level known is to comment, gently, when you hear something that's just too harsh for your ears. You can say 'Yikes!' or 'Eek!' or some other exclamation, and then add, 'Can I ask you to find a less colorful expression?' " She says that 95% of people will get the hint.

What if they don't? Ryan recommends speaking to your boss about it. "People who are offended by profanity often don't speak up because they fear they won't be viewed as sufficiently hard-core or tough," she says. "But companies are working on becoming more diverse, and part of diversity is embracing all sorts of communication styles and values. No one should have to work in an F-this, F-that environment if they're not comfortable."

Of course, it's possible that your boss is one of the people in your office who talks like a longshoreman, in which case you will have to broach the subject carefully. Emphasize the business consequences: You're worried that all this salty talk will make your group seem unprofessional to higher-ups, or to customers, or both.

In the end, though, some corporate cultures are more accepting of foul language than others (as anyone who's ever spent any time at a Wall Street trading desk can attest), and trying to change the whole culture is likely to be a losing battle. In that case, you have a decision to make: Is your job satisfying enough in every other respect that you can learn to overlook this? If not, you may be happier working somewhere else.

Dear Annie: What do I say to my boss, and anyone else who asks, about why I am ducking out of the office for an hour or two? I'm really going on job interviews, but must I say so? I don't want to lie, but the truth would probably count against me. -Old Scout

Dear Scout: If you absolutely can't schedule these interviews at lunchtime, or very early in the morning or late in the day (when your absence might be less conspicuous), you can always offer a vague explanation - "I have an important errand to run," or "I have a few things to attend to. I'll be back by 4." As longtime readers of this column know, I never recommend lying. For the record, though, people often do fib about this. A recent poll by recruiters Korn/Ferry International found that 27% of job seekers say they have a family- or child-related appointment to keep, and 23% say they're going to a doctor or dentist. The largest group, at 34%, said they "give no excuse and just sneak out." Why not try that?


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