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What do you do when your CEO or co-workers swear? - May 30,2008
It is the secret question burning on the lips of many of us Jamaican employees. Yet we dare not ask it aloud for fear of well - maybe an expletive-filled answer. What do you do when the person who heads the organization you work for, the owner-man/woman, or perhaps the person to whom you report directly, liberally laces his/her speech with forty-shilling words that would make even a sailor worth every ounce of his sea-salt, cringe in horror or sob like a school girl?
Or, how do you deal with a colleague whose unconscious and creative use of Jamaican ‘bad wuds’ in casual conversation or in response to a simple query (“Ahmm...may I borrow your stapler/chair/a paper clip?”) has you wondering whether or not he missed his inventive wordsmith’s calling? You definitely did not know that there were so many exciting combinations to be made from such a simple noun. Your workmate has with blessed assurance proven to you – yes it can be done.
Bang and Splatter
Have you ever noticed that people who are prolific in this ‘specialized’ area of communication have a certain timbre to their voice and when uttered from their lips the expletives appear to explode with an almighty bang and splatter all-over your persona, seemingly splashing and staining you from head to toe? At the end of any such exchange you feel soiled –muck-filled and dirtier than that homeless man you saw this morning on your way to work.
Don’t get me wrong. I am no prude. The field of communication that has all but consumed my life is filled with many very colorful words and even more multi-coloured characters. And I can tell you here and now, unashamedly that as a reporter, travelling on the road with an oft-time motley crew of mainly male photogs, drivers and my fellow-reporters, I learnt from the very best. In my time I have heard some permutations of swear words that would make even William Shakespeare question his very place in literary history. The Bard himself would in a quick minute doff his hat at some of our Jamaican greatness. For real.
Industrial language
So I ask you then, do swear words, or as some say, ’industrial language’ have a place in our workplace? Should we save a seat for it at the lunch table, perhaps? Or maybe even leave a place for it in the board room? There are of course those of my colleagues who would shudder in their Calvin Kleins at the thought that such a topic is even up for discussion on any corporate communication agenda. But it is.
Bearing in mind that all honourable work is respectful, I think it is a given that rough language will be used in work environments such as on construction sites the world over, in manufacturing plants, on ships, on delivery trucks or in news rooms everywhere. Such universally accepted facts, like the rising and the setting of the sun, we have come to unquestioningly acknowledge.
So, let us take the argument inside the corporate office and place it firmly in the cubicle beside yours and mine. What do you do if you are offended by your co-worker’s foul use of the language? Do you report him to management and lose your seat at the lunch table among your peers? Do you suck it up with a weak grin and pray to God that since it is one hour before lunchtime it must be that hunger “a mad him”.
How closely wedded are you?
If however it is your CEO or some other mighty and highly placed executive who fate has unkindly twinned you with, through reporting relationships, there are many responses from which to choose. Your reaction will of course depend on how closely wedded you are to the idea of paying your light bill and water rate at the end of each month. Choose one of the following:
You could pretend not to hear him. You could feign temporary insanity and start an inane conversation with him (or yourself) that has no earthly bearing on any subject this side of that kind hospice in eastern Kingston. Then again, you could assume that he/she is prepping for Friday’s Happy Hour (today is Wednesday), and throw him the thumbs up signal. On the flip side, perhaps you could register your deep disgust with the most contemptuous look you can muster this side of legitimate employment, giving him the concise version of the lecture you practiced over and over in your head. After that you could strut haughtily back to your desk and start frantically mass-printing those resumes you have been stock-piling since you heard the first barrage of bad words. Like I said there are many options.
Collective America
Two weeks ago, May 14, The New York Times carried a story about a news anchor WNBC-TV’s Sue Simmonds who, on air, directed an obscenity at her longtime co-anchor, Chuck Scarborough. The story didn’t tell us what profanity she used. Yes, I am curious too. What happened in the aftermath? She apologized during the 11 p.m. broadcast saying: “While we were live just after 10 o’clock,” she said, “I said a word that many people find offensive. I’m truly sorry. It was a mistake on my part, and I sincerely apologize.” It does not appear that she lost her job. But judging from the comments, collective America (some of who admitted that they cussed like sailors) was quite affronted.
I myself have personal views on the matter of office obscenities although, truth be told there are even more obscene issues going on in the workplace today than a couple of swear words. Share your views with me on this cussed question.
Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson MBA, ABC, is a Business Communications Consultant with
RO Communications Jamaica, specializing in business communication, employee communications and financial publications.
Contact: yvonne@rocommunications.com; Website: www.rocommunications.com and post your comments.


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