Few things make an impact, or lack thereof, like the words you allow to flow from your lips. Regardless of your station in life, vocabulary absolutely matters…It matters to an even greater degree for those in positions of leadership. Before I go any further, let me state for the record that I’m not a prude nor am I a mama’s boy. I’ve traveled the world, spent years in athletic locker rooms, served in the military, and have been in my fair share of interesting places. I’m also not going to present a religious argument, or come at this topic from the perspective of academic elitism. That said, I am going to tell you what I think of the value of possessing a great vocabulary. Moreover, I will comment on what I believe to be appropriate and inappropriate use of speech, and I’ll do it all without pulling any punches.
Let’s get the topic of profanity out of the way…In this author’s humble opinion there is absolutely no value whatsoever in coloring your verbal communications with expletives. As noted above, I’ve seen a lot in my life and experience has shown me that the use of profanity typically boils down to an individual being guilty of having one or more of the following flaws:
1. Lack of Intelligence: The English language offers us the choice of so many wonderful adjectives, analogies, abilities to paint word pictures and a variety of other descriptors such that there is no need to substitute with expletives. The insertion of a four letter word for “emphasis” usually only points out the speaker lacks command of his vocabulary. Nothing flashes “stupid” like the use of profanity. Don’t make the mistake of appearing to be uneducated if you’re not.
2. Laziness: We have all met bright people who swear. This usually means that they either think that they are smarter than everyone else so people will put up with their use of profanity or that they have just fallen into a rut and are too lazy to work on improving their verbal communication skills. Either scenario is a negative label that professionals should not desire to be tagged with.
3. Poor Anger Management: People who are not quick on their feet or do not possess adequate conflict resolution skills often revert to profanity as a safety net of sorts. If all else fails people who fall into this category resort to attempting to intimidate the other party with the use of profanity (see # 4 below). People identified as having anger management issues typically don’t reach their full potential without learning better skills. If you would rather spend your career advancing in the ranks as opposed to spending time in counseling or coaching sessions lose the profanity.
4. Insecurity: People that are not confident in themselves and/or their abilities often try and bolster other’s perception of them by using off-color language as an attempt to feign strength and power. Here’s a tip It doesn’t work. Profanity won’t intimidate anyone (at least not any worthy opponent) and will likely only lessen your image with the audience you are trying to impress.
5. Socially Inappropriate Behavior: The show off, ego-maniac, substance abuser, the female trying to be “one of the boys” or the want to be comedian are all examples of socially inappropriate behavior that will often times result in the use of profanity. No body likes a show-off, substance abuse is never a good thing, most guys don’t find it attractive to hang out with women who curse like the proverbial drunken sailor and inappropriate jokes are more likely to get you a sexual harassment charge than a laugh
Now that we’ve beaten the profanity issue to death, let’s move on I have always said that 90% of the problems in business could be eliminated through the use of direct, clear and concise communication. Being a great communicator is one of the “x” factors in business. Part of what makes a great communicator is not only possessing a great vocabulary, but knowing how and when to use it. Great orators have commanded the attention and respect of others since the dawn of time. They are rarely ignored or spoken over, but tend to inspire, motivate, educate, influence and lead those around them.
If you reflect back on your experience and think of those people whom you hold in high regard, more often than not, they will have been great communicators. Rarely will the people that come to mind fall into the “swore like a drunken sailor” category. Most of them will however have either possessed great vocabularies or will have completely mastered the use and timing of a more limited vocabulary.
While it would be easy to include discussions on focus, clarity, consistency, active listening, brevity, picking your battles and a number of the other traits possessed by good communicators this piece is about vocabulary. Vocabulary is the one of the least costly investments into personal and professional growth that an individual can make. Simply eliminating the “you knows” and the “and ums” from your patter can make a big difference in how you are perceived by others. Ask someone whom you can trust to be honest to give you an evaluation of the depth, breadth and appropriateness of use of your vocabulary and then diligently work to correct whatever shortcomings were identified. You’ll be glad you did