A few years back when I started taking drum lessons, my instructor gave me some sage advice about my performing.  The advice he offered was ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’ which came from a common English saying, meaning that there are some things that you should not do, even if you are able to do them.   It was originally meant as advice to someone who might be using their money, power, or skill in a way that’s not very wise. In my zeal to perhaps add some fancy drum fills that I had not quite mastered yet within my sticking repertoire, my instructor was gently advising me to keep it simple and straightforward and, even though I might eventually master those fancy fills, they might not fit every situation. That was a teachable moment for me that I have carried forward into my business practice and into the world of customer experience.

Observing the world around me of late, especially observing behaviors and conversation around retail businesses and watching employees and customers interact, I’m noticing an increasing and concerning use of profanity entering what could be, and should be, a cleaner, kinder, and more intelligent sounding interchange.  What this indicates to me is that there are some challenging times ahead for what we might consider best practices within customer service. I would like to believe that we are not, as a culture here in the USA, heading down the path of further degradation of the English language.

Certainly not profane, yet disturbing enough, is the proliferation of the filler-word “like” that has grown as an insidious and most dreadful word since the excessive use of the filler-word “um.”  Sprinkled throughout common sentences, either ‘um’ or ‘like’ makes a person sound uneducated and rather idiotic.  It’s bad enough to hear this daily on the street, mostly among millennials, but when it starts infiltrating journalists and newscasters, we really seem to be heading into some sort of lexiconic nightmare.  This causes me to recall the advice of my drum instructor and the notion of just because you can don’t mean you should.  There is a time and place for everything and in the customer service arena and, in normal unemotional conversation, I think we can all agree this has no real place or purpose.

Imagine, if you will, the following “sometime-in-the-future” dialog between a customer and a clerk at a local hardware store—where I’ve heard a far less profane, yet frighteningly similar, interchanges occur.

Clerk: Hey, what the <expletive> is going on and how can I <expletive> help you?
Customer: I need some <expletive> wire to repair my <expletive> chain-link fence?
Clerk: What’s the <expletive> issue?
Customer: My <expletive> neighbor’s kid keeps <expletive> using the <expletive> hole in my fence to cut through my <expletive> backyard and I’m <expletive> tired of the <expletive> <expletive> doing that.
Clerk: That’s a real <expletive> problem.  I can <expletive> help you with that. Follow me downstairs and I’ll show you what we <expletive> have.

I could go on here, but you get the picture.  How could we as a culture ever degrade into this level of conversational idiocy and feel that it passes for normal.  One thought here, and I will not delve any further into US politics, is to just look at how degraded that conversation has become among political leaders, especially over the last three years. For all the good that has come from social media, some of it has degraded into a no-holds-barred inflaming finger-pointing interchange of bombastic and profane nonsense only meant to jack up people’s emotions to the level of inciting verbal terrorism.  And, for many, just because they can, they do—diving head-first into an emotional-intelligence landslide.  There may be occasions where our emotions will get the best of us and we may slip a few expletives in here and there, but that ought to be the exception, not the rule, especially in what calls for normal conversation as in the above futuristic scenario.  So why has this kind of language become so much more prevalent?

The Association of Psychological Science’s Perspectives on Psychological Science published an article by Timothy Jay back in 2009 that helps answer that question. In the article, he says that we make choices about which words to use depending upon the company we’re in, and what our relationship is to that company, as well as the social setting. We’re more apt to use fewer offensive terms in mixed company or in settings where more offensive swear words might result in recrimination, such as when we’re at work. We all swear from time to time and it is a natural part of speech and some words like f…k are meant to express a greater level of anger than, s…t or damn, for example.  Swears may be used for name-calling or wishing someone harm, so it’s no wonder they are often heard in hate-speech, verbal abuse, and harassment. But, how on earth did f…k become such a common filler-word like ‘um’ or ‘like’ have become?  And, more importantly, how can this verbal vulgarity be addressed?

Believe it or not, there’s an organization called The Cuss Control Academy based in Northbrook Illinois that was started by James V. O’Connor in 1998.  James also published a book in 2000 entitled Cuss Control: The complete book on how to curb your cursing.  His impetus to write the book was based on his own issue with swearing prolifically until he became exasperated with the gratuitous use of the “F-word” in movies and other public places.  The book takes a light-hearted but intent look at the history of swearing, why we do it, and how to control it. He doesn’t condemn profanity but suggests being discreet about when and where we choose to swear.

O’Connor asserts that swearing reflects an abrasive or negative attitude and poor vocabulary. Societal effects, he says, include a lack of civility and profanity’s ability to instigate violence or unnecessary verbal aggression. He recommends eliminating casual swearing, working on patience, using alternative words, making points politely, and using volume to make points if necessary. Through his work, O’Connor is regarded by the media as one of the few experts on why swearing is commonplace and how to teach people to stop.

James lists “Ten Tips for Taming Your Tongue” on his Cuss Control Academy website www.cusscontrol.com and offers the following:

  1. Recognize that swearing does damage.
  2. Start by eliminating casual swearing.
  3. Think positively.
  4. Practice being patient.
  5. Cope, don’t cuss.
  6. Stop complaining.
  7. Use alternative words.
  8. Make your point politely.
  9. Think of what you should have said.
  10. Work at it.

The POWER, if you will according to O’Connor, in becoming less profane is that you will be perceived as more mature, intelligent, articulate, polite, considerate and pleasant if you control your language and the emotions that typically prompt expletives. You can choose to have character and class or be considered rude, crude and crass.  My drum instructor’s sage advice to me that started this internal dialog, and which prompted this blog, is that you can control yourself and you can use proper language only when you should and not just because you can.

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Karl Sharicz – Founder, CEO – HorizonCX, LLC. | November 7, 2019

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