dealing with a potty-mouth boss

Many people have expressed to me that they’re seeing a significant rise in bosses using profanity in the workplace. “It’s getting to be positively de rigueur in some circles,” one senior H.R. Consultant told me recently, “and it appears equally split with both male and female leaders.”

Profanity in the workplace isn’t a new thing, of course, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant. And it’s not that we all don’t know the words – and even use them sometimes. It’s more the choice of where and when the language is used that makes it inappropriate.

There are three reasons that a potty-mouth boss uses profanity in the workplace:

 1. Bullying

Using profanity and ‘getting away with it’ is sometimes a way of proving that “the rules don’t apply to me.” It’s an assertion of power, and a common bullying tactic.

2. Effect

Sometimes people want to create shock value, or drive a point home.

3. Subconscious

Some people grew up using profanity as part of their natural speaking patterns. It’s a reflection of their upbringing and social circles. They simply don’t appreciate the negative impact it has on others.

Try These Two Techniques

If you have a boss who uses unpleasant language at inappropriate times, here are two strategies you can try:

1. Use Humor

Every time your boss uses inappropriate language, gently make fun of him (her). You can say things like, “You have such a potty mouth!” or, “Do you eat with that mouth?” or “There’s that language again – you should consider expanding your vocabulary.” It might take a few repetitions, but eventually it will sink in.

2. Ignore and Reframe

Instead of thinking of your boss as just a jerk with a foul mouth, try to think of him as someone you should feel a little sorry for. He does appear, after all, to be suffering from some significant challenges with his interpersonal skills.

One Thing To Avoid

If your boss’s potty mouth truly offends you, don’t make any formal complaints until you have first tried one of the two techniques above or talked directly with him.  That will simply make you look oversensitive, and could impact how people perceive you.  Having said that, if you have done this and things aren’t improving, you may not have any other choice.

Good Luck!


2 Responses

  1. Thanks for your article Shaun. I would apply what you’ve written about to peers as well. I had a situation many years ago with a peer who fit in the subconscious category and making him aware of the negative impact worked perfectly. He thanked me and didn’t use a “potty mouth” in my presence afterwards. I’m curious, do you think there is any correlation to the rise in profanity and our current POTUS? My sense is that he’s giving permission to be a bully and the behavior and language that comes along with it.

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