Professional Communication: To swear? Or not to swear?

Bit of a hot tamale when you're in a negotiation? Just make sure it's not getting in the way of your message.  Photo Source




Potty mouth?

I was inspired to write this post after reading an article by Maisie at Audacious Muse. Truth be told, I can sometimes be quite liberal with the cuss words. Not here in my writing for you…but sometimes there’s a need for a dramatic bomb release. And some sign language to match. But Maisie’s post got me thinking…is there a place for swearing in a negotiation?

As with many things in life… “it depends”. On context, on tone, on relationship. Looking back at my years of negotiating, I’ve heard my share of dirty words flung back and forth across the conference room table. And you know what? Sometimes it’s just what the situation needs.

Let’s see how you can let one slip…without ending up with a mouth full of soap and a deal gone awry.


Would you swear in front of your brother? Highly likely. Your Mom? Perhaps. Your Grandmother? Woah…you’d be picking yourself up off the floor for that one. Same goes for swearing in a negotiation. You’ve got to know your audience, and know how to read the room. Unless you’ve got a great, open, friendly relationship with the CEO/President/Big Wig that you’re negotiating with, stick to a more refined vocabulary. They may surprise you with their own language…but follow them down that path with caution – with their position may come greater latitude. Even if you’re not negotiating with the top dogs, keep your ears open for how your counterpart is speaking. Spilling some coffee and saying “Oh sugar!” is an indication that letting the F-bomb out is not going to advance your cause, or relationship.

Swearing in a negotiation? Know your audience, the context, and watch your %$#!& tone.

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The most uncomfortable negotiation I’ve ever been in involved a fair bit of swearing. Low level stuff, like s**t and hell. That’s child’s play when it comes to my cuss word repertoire. But what made it uncomfortable – and lead to me drawing discussions to a close with a request for my counterpart to change their behaviour – was the angry and antagonistic tone. “Aw hell. What do you expect me to do with this request?” is a lot different than “What the hell?! How am I supposed to take this s**t back to my boss?” Ugh. No way. Don’t do that. Check yourself when it comes to your tone. If you’re angry or agitated, take a break, get some air and calm yourself down. You’ve gotta keep it light, conversational and humourous if you’re going to add a bit more spice to your vocabulary.


When you’ve been doing business with someone for quite a while, you start to build a rapport. A set of inside jokes, the ability to predict what hot topics they’ll bring to the negotiation, the best way to tease them about their local sports team…you might even call it a budding friendship. When you’re in this stage of a relationship with a negotiation partner, your inhibitions about expressing yourself with a swear word can be pretty low. Their proposal is B.S.? Call it that. Throw your head back, let loose a belly laugh and let ‘er rip…then roll up those sleeves and get down to business collaborating on an amazing deal. As long as you’re treating them with respect, and are willing to wade through the deal and find something that works for both of you, a candid and colourful vocabulary has a place at the table with you.