How can I talk to coworkers about their filthy language?

    “How can I talk to coworkers about their filthy language?” Ensign, June 2001, 70

    Some coworkers use filthy language and talk about things that ought not to be publicly shared. How can I let them know I am uncomfortable without alienating them?

    Response by Craig Redding, organization effectiveness consultant, Kingwood, Texas.

    The way we act determines in large measure how people behave around us. We might ask ourselves, Do I act like someone worthy of respect, and do people know what I stand for? Our standards become apparent to others when the things we do and say radiate a commitment to decency and purity. Then most people will be careful not to offend us with filthy language; some may even intervene in our behalf when others use such language in our presence.

    We help coworkers become aware of our standards in various ways, both direct and indirect. Key among these is making sure that, whenever possible, we avoid settings and situations where language tends to become inappropriate. If, for instance, our coworkers are in the habit of gathering around the water cooler to tell off-color jokes, during those times we ought to be found elsewhere.

    Another way to make our values known is to share with coworkers something we learned on a mission or from a talk or lesson at church. We could also share an Ensign article that addresses a topic of interest to others to convey something meaningful to us. These kinds of actions are most effective when done in ways that build relationships and less effective if done in ways that tell people we think we are better than they are or that we are judging them. If we do such things in the spirit of love, people tend to naturally keep foul language and influences away from us without our having to say a word.

    The items we use to personalize our workplaces can also make a difference. I’ve seen screen savers on people’s computers and other materials in work areas that declare positive, uplifting messages, and these clearly influence what people do and say.

    Sometimes, however, the only way to help others understand our concerns about their use of profanity is to tell them directly, especially when our work regularly brings us into contact with new people who are likely to be unaware of our standards. Of course, when we ask someone to refrain from using bad language around us, we should take care not to be disrespectful or judgmental and not to speak with an air of superiority.

    My wife’s employment with one of the major airlines requires her to associate with a new crew of people every month and new passengers every couple of hours. On one occasion a hardworking and friendly coworker was bombarding her with foul language. Kindly, she asked him, “Are you aware of how much foul language you use? It is causing me to want to stay away from you.” Taken back but not offended, he said, “I didn’t realize how much I was doing it.” He stopped. Weeks later, he told my wife how much his own wife appreciated the change in language, and he thanked my wife for bringing it to his attention.

    A consultant I know once told a person he was training, “You would be far more influential if you eliminated the distractions created by the type of language you use.” The person previously thought swearing added spice to his presentation.

    Our ability to remedy a situation in which others use filthy language increases as we seek help and guidance through prayer and as we deepen our concern for our brothers and sisters. We are better able to address the problem in a way that typically does not offend, is usually appreciated, and can strengthen our relationship with them.