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Cursing and HR; it’s a Good Thing

May 3, 2011

One thing I found after last year’s HRevolution was that I needed to come home, think about things, and take the time to digest all that went on.  So as I mentioned yesterday, I intend to do the same in 2011; savory tidbit by savory tidbit.  So what made HRevolution memorable? Here’s Tasty HRevolution morsel #1…

At the risk of begging for some push-back from one of my readers again, I’m going to tackle a topic I touched on several weeks ago when I questioned if one can be prudish/overly sensitive and work in HR.

One thing I find so incredibly refreshing at HRevolution is the honesty of the conversations, and the realness, humanity and damn straight-out passion that oozes out of every attendee and track leader.  At most conferences/events, many attendees arrive having put on their plastic work-personas for the day and the phoniness fills the air.  Not so at HRevolution. People are themselves and talk is real.  Damns, hells and F-bombs popped up from track leaders and session attendees alike.  At the end of the day I walked into the performance management session and saw that William Tincup was planning to take the position on performance appraisals that we should blow that shit up.”  (Somehow I don’t think I could sell that topic to the conference committee as a super name for a session at our SHRM State Conference, but can I just have an Amen here?)    So then when the final closing comment to the gathered assemblage of 130 people included a reference to both HR and the F-bomb, I gotta tell you it was just downright freakin’ festive.


Cursing when it’s due to an angry outburst or used as a way to belittle someone or play a power-game is most definitely uncool.   But some folks would argue that cursing in any form is wrong/bad/inappropriate and should never ever ever occur at a professional event or in a workplace. But swearing can aid in connecting people and the use of what my grandma used to call ‘colorful’  language may even serve to build bridges by humanizing people.

Remember when President Obama used the word “ass” last year when talking about the gulf oil spill during an interview?  He said that one of the goals he had during meetings about the crisis was to figure out “whose ass to kick.”  His use of a pretty common phrase humanized him and allowed him to connect with the viewing audience (particularly my fellow residents of the gulf coast).  Obviously his use of the phrase was deliberately planned and scripted but it did serve  its intended purpose of forging a connection.  Much like I’ve found that the liberal use of curse words at HRevolution solidifies the realness and connectedness of the community.

Authentic.  Real.  Human.  Having candid conversations and displaying strong feelings and passions.


As George S. Patton said –

When I want my men to remember something important, to really make it stick, I give it to them double dirty. It may not sound nice to some bunch of little old ladies at an afternoon tea party, but it helps my soldiers to remember. You can’t run an army without profanity; and it has to be eloquent profanity. An army without profanity couldn’t fight its way out of a piss-soaked paper bag. … As for the types of comments I make, sometimes I just, By God, get carried away with my own eloquence. ~ from an explanation to his nephew about his profanity, quoted in “The Unknown Patton” by Charles M. Province, p. 184 


12 Comments leave one →
  1. May 3, 2011 8:45 am

    I can relate..2 quickies…1. I remember in my 1st big time position, we had a staff meeting, my manager leans over and said “I hope they don’t drag this sh!t out!” I was like awesome…2nd, it reminds me of the old joke from Steve Harvey, about going to church. He said as a kid he didn’t like it very much because they went 4-5 days a week. Until one day he heard one of the old member curse in church..It opened his eyes and he was excited about going.
    It’s something about a well placed curse word, that lets you know, we are all human, and I’m comfortable around you.
    Puts you at ease.

  2. HR in BR permalink
    May 3, 2011 10:13 am

    AMEN! And a “Hell, yeah!” Sounds like it was a great event. Love your posts by the way! Engaging, enlightening and REAL. Keep up the good work. We need to spice up here in LA.

  3. May 3, 2011 10:51 am

    Darn tootin!

    (in my new social media role, I have to be more careful of where and when I curse!) 🙂

  4. May 3, 2011 10:59 am

    A wonderful teacher of mine once said that we are “human beings, not human doings” and part of “being” for some is language that other people don’t use. I completely agree with your premise. Language can be hurtful when used for that intended effect, whether or not there is cursing involved. I have known some very prudish people, who never swear, tear the souls out of co-workers with their words.

    Use language to it’s best effect, and sometimes, if it suits you, that includes words that make very definite and remarkably clear points. I remember at one company, I walked around a corner to find a group of employees talking about something and one of them said “that program was the shit!”, with a big grin on his face (that’s praise for the program, just in case you weren’t sure). He then saw me, turned beet red, and started apologizing to me. I calmed him down and told him that I’m the HR guy…not his grandmother or his priest – I’m not there to stop people from being human, for goodness sake. I’m there to help people be as human as they can be at work. Be yourself. Be kind and do good work. That’s where I stand. Thanks, Robin!


  5. May 3, 2011 11:22 am

    Hell ya~ I think that sometimes to make a point you have to use language that gets their attention. For the most part, we feel pretty comfortable with our tribe and the cultural norms including language that are a part of that. Not everyone feels that same way of course which is why people go plastic. It’s safe, easy, and doesn’t illicit any type of action or emotion typically. It’s the status quo.



  6. Tricia permalink
    May 3, 2011 1:23 pm

    AMEN!!! HR is finally being seen as human beings and real people like we are!!!

  7. May 3, 2011 8:54 pm

    Love it Robin. I enjoy when people are themselves and not pretending to be something or somebody else. And if that means the expletives fly once in a while, then I know they are human.

  8. May 4, 2011 7:09 am

    I’m a day late on this one, but I couldn’t agree more. In my house f*bombs are adjectives. My husband and his family use it in every sentence, sometimes every other word so of course it rubs off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve let one slip at work and prudish HR folk look aghast and shake their heads while others who were beginning to think we are all robots would give me a high five. We are people just like everyone else and should act like it!

  9. May 4, 2011 9:36 am

    Really? I’m offended.

  10. May 5, 2011 12:04 pm

    Drive it home Robin. I especially love when the F-bomb is taunted out of people. “Come on, who is going to drop it first and how many times?” We should make that an HRevolution raffle game. Kinda like guessing baby birthdays and weight. New twist on an old office party theme.

  11. Robin Schooling permalink*
    May 10, 2011 6:37 pm

    Thanks everyone for chiming in – you all F^%k*ng rock!

    p.s. I’m speaking at a SHRM chapter meeting tomorrow; but chances are I will-not curse…..

  12. May 18, 2011 6:30 pm

    I did like that closing comment…… : )

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