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When good employees use bad language

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in Office Communication,Workplace Communication

You're no prude, but some of your employees can be downright foulmouthed, particularly when people or things aren't "cooperating." This hurts both their image and that of the team, and you want to make a change. Here's some expert advice:

-Show that you understand employees' feelings. It's easy for employees to confuse your concern about their language with your reactions to their own attitudes and feelings—making you sound like you're unsympathetic to what your employees have to face. Make clear from the start that you know the difference between how your employees feel and what they do. Express your empathy for the irritation and frustration they experience, both because they're only human and because they face specific challenges on the job.

- Action is what you care about. Even if you could or wanted to, it's not your place as a manager to try to change a worker's personality. But you can and do have the power to manage your employees' behaviors and expect them to not be hostile or offensive in the workplace, particularly in situations where customers and co-workers can hear them. You should especially reinforce that you know your workers do behave appropriately most of the time, and acknowledge your appreciation.

- Define why foul language is unacceptable. It makes workers less effective than they could be if they handled anger more constructively. It makes clients and customers and colleagues take the employee (and your team) less seriously. And it can contribute to charges of harassment and a "hostile work environment," with dire legal consequences. Any or all of these reasons may be important to you; make sure they're known to your workers.

- Define better alternatives. If workers use foul language without really thinking about it, then explore ways to remind them when they cross the line and help them break the bad habit. If, on the other hand, your employees feel they can't help using foul language—because they're in situations where they can't control their anger or tension—then help them find more constructive alternatives. Give them permission to take a break, run around the block, or whatever else helps, no questions asked, if that's what's needed to keep a civil workplace.

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