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Five golden rules for workplace cursing in the style of Jamie Dimon

There is a time and a place

Using profane language and working in an investment bank may seem as apt a combination as wearing a stetson and rounding up cattle. But swearing at work is a difficult business. If you get it right, you can end up looking like Jamie Dimon - who earlier this week insisted there was 'no bullsh*tting' about the London Whale. If you get it wrong, you can end up looking like Mel Gibson in the midst of a meltdown.

These are the golden rules for workplace profanity.

1. Assess the culture 

Cursing is a very context-dependent activity, said Oliver James, the psychologist and author of a new book on office politics. "If you're watching a football match, there will be a lot of swearing and it's entirely appropriate to swear," said James. "The same often applies on the trading floor. But I suspect, swearing in a commercial law team would not be approved of at all."

2. Swear about issues, not individuals

Dimon's profanity was used to rebuff the suggestion that the Bruno Iksil affair was covered up. This constitutes acceptable swearing, said Roy Cohen, a New York City careers coach and author of the Wall Street Professionals' Survival Guide.

"You can refer to situations using a swear word, but never refer to individuals using a swear word," said Cohen. "If you're dealing with an issue that's somewhat contentious or dramatic then using a swearword can emphasize your conviction and intensity."

3. Use scatalogical rather than sexual swearwords

Dimon's chosen curse was scatalogical rather than sexual. This is how it should be, said Cohen.

"On the richter scale for swearwords, bullsh*t is not offensive swearword," Cohen pointed out. "There are other words that are far more offensive and can be taken personally."

4. Don't swear upwards 

Swearing is a hierarchical issue. "Peer to peer swearing may be fine," said James. "Equally, it may be fine to swear when reporting back to your boss about something that's been going on - that may be part of the way your workplace communicates extreme ideas and emotions, but never swear at your boss."

"Using swearwords at work when you're junior could be viewed as insubordination," said Cohen. "There's a hiearchy to swearing - it's often acceptable to swear to peers, but not to people more senior than you."

5. Don't swear if you're a woman 

If Jamie Dimon were Jane Dimon, his swearing might be less acceptable. "When women swear, it's viewed very differently to when men swear," said Cohen. "Cursing women are often perceived as uptight tough bitches. When men swear it's just viewed as an aspect of their personality and character. It's an unfair distinction, but that's how it is."

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • ma
    male 40-something banker
    17 June 2013

    I tried leaving a comment earlier pointing out the inconsistency between #5 and #6 on the list. It was censored. Well, you know, I am going to try again. Very politely.

  • th
    the voice of the patriarchy
    15 June 2013

    #6 - so Mr Cohen can use the word "bitches" to refer to female individuals (rules #2 & #3 dude!) but women cannot swear? Look at what he's just written in #5 -- "it's often acceptable to swear to peers, but not to people more senior than you".

    So putting #5 and #6 together, all I can logically infer from this, is that his argument is that men are more senior to women and "that's how it is".

    Well anyway I guess we have a nice insight into aspects of Mr Cohen's "personality and character" now, just as he says in #6. It's pretty clear. Innit?

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