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Banter and swearing in the workplace

Diane Hall


Banter and swearing in the workplace

I read an interesting article this week, which spoke about swearing at work. It used the example of Nick Kyrgios, and other players at Wimbledon, cursing whilst trying to get the better of their opponent. Though we see it as entertainment on our telly, those tennis courts represent the players’ workplaces, just like we work from the ITK offices.

In our office, we enjoy banter from time to time during the day. A bit of humour can make a dreary project or feelings of sluggishness pass quickly. As well as swearing, we may discuss topics that are quite ‘close to the bone’…we probably wouldn’t repeat much of what was said out of the confines of our four office walls. It’s a nice feeling to work with people who have a similar sense of humour to you.

Tennis ball with water spinning off it

Tennis ball with water spinning off it

Is the fact that Wimbledon is televised the reason why Kyrgios and some of his colleagues have been fined for swearing? Perhaps. As I’ve said, if I thought our office banter was going to be beamed to millions of people around the world, every word I said would be much more carefully considered.

I’ve spoke in ITK magazine before about having more than one job. I have four; in two of them, I can be rude and raucous with my colleagues, in the other two, I wouldn’t dream of being anything but polite and professional with those I work with. It’s perhaps a ‘read the room’ situation—I don’t think my colleagues in the latter two roles would appreciate any smut or swearing.

As my own experience demonstrates, swearing isn’t a given in the workplace. Certainly, if you’re in a customer-facing role, it’s a no-no, as you’d expect. Few customers would take kindly to hearing hearty banter and swear words when approaching a member of staff or would accept being sworn to/at. Then again, if you were to visit any branch of ‘Karen’s Diner’ in the UK, you’re going for food with a side order of abuse. Swearing is requisite, and it’s what the brand is built on.

In response to the article, a few people said that no one pulls them up on their constant swearing other than their mothers. Maybe it’s not as inherent in their speech as they think, or perhaps the people they meet are just too well-mannered to broach the subject.

Networking and swearing

Networking and swearing

I admit, if I go to a networking event or meet someone for the first time and they drop a swear word in our chat it does stand out from the rest of their words. At the same time, I think, ‘You’re my sort of person’. I can understand some people being averse to swearing in this sort of context, but if they’re offended by swearing in every aspect and avenue of life, I’d think they were a pain in the backside.

The funniest comedians, in my eyes, swear, and their content would be considered ‘blue’. That’s not to say something must be crude or near to the knuckle for it to be funny, but swearing is a common thing to hear nowadays, and it therefore makes their humour more realistic if they add in a few curse words for effect.

Swearing is fine, but it has its place—at least, that’s my take. I’ve been surprised to find the most suited and booted acquaintance swear in their general conversation, but I’ve equally been bored by people too well-mannered and easily offended in social situations.

Here’s where I’m a hypocrite: I don’t like to hear my children swear. I know they do it when with their friends, but we’re not the sort of household who turns the air blue with every conversation. I suppose I’d like to believe I’ve raised young ladies who are dignified, elegant and classy, with impeccable manners. The other half of me hopes I’ve also raised women who aren’t afraid to be themselves, women who I can trust to weigh up their audience and know whether those around them would love or hate any candid speech. Women who don’t play second fiddle to the patriarchy and society’s expectations of them. Women who know when to rein it in and when it’s okay to let loose.

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