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Keeping Profanity Out of the Dialogue

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… by Marcus Sheridan

Many of you will not agree with what I’m about to say within this post. And to be honest, that’s OK. This is a subject that has been rolling around in the back of my head for quite some time now and it’s one that no one in the blogosphere has spent much time addressing. So despite the fact that some may be quite put off or offended by the following words, I feel it’s time I put my thoughts to pen regarding what I feel is a rather important subject—Profanity and Communication.

The subject to this post really started a few months ago when I attended a seminar of a very good speaker. The presenter was passionate, maintained his audience, and had obviously put quite a bit of thought in his message. But despite these positive traits, I was surprised to hear him use 4 or 5 curse words during his presentation.

Now I know you may be wondering what the words were. Let’s just put it this way, they were rather mild. Heck, they were words that one could easily find on the television in 2011. Notwithstanding, I was concerned for this speaker because I knew that some of the people in the audience wouldn’t necessarily share his passion for such vernacular.

Don’t be Fooled by Your Audience

Shortly after the presentation, I commenced talking to a gentleman who, at first site, would be viewed by many as a ‘good ole boy’—boots, cowboy hat, and the faded jeans to fit the bill. Upon asking him his thoughts on the seminar, he rather surprised me with the following statement. It went something like this:

‘I didn’t appreciate that man’s language’.

And that, my friends, was this good man’s lasting memory of what was in reality an excellent discourse. By simply sprinkling in less than a handful of ‘curse’ words, the speaker had completely lost at least one of the members of his audience. This, in my opinion, is a crying shame.

Principles Remain True

Some of you may think this is silly. Others might say, ‘Well it’s 2011, times have changed’. Frankly, I’d beg to differ. In fact, I submit the principles of great communication are as applicable today as they were 100 or even 1000 years ago.—-If you can deliver a great message, without offending parts of your audience, then why wouldn’t you?

Now before any of you start thinking that I’m here to judge someone for their use of the English language, allow me to say I am not. I’ve got too many personal issues to correct before I start judging others and the way they talk. I don’t care if you cuss like a sailor. But the idea of cussing like a sailor around other people who don’t share such linguistic patterns is, may I say, disrespectful and potentially quite detrimental to your influence and ultimate earning power.

False Assumptions…To What End?

So many speakers and writers just assume everyone speaks and uses profanity the way they do, oblivious to the fact that there are thousands and thousands of people online this very second that are offended by hearing and reading curse words.

Along these same lines, I’ve come across many in the blogosphere that go out of their way to profane. It’s almost as if they can’t put a thought together without adding a 4-letter word for more supposed emphasis.

As a reader, I understand I have a choice to move to the next blogger. But such isn’t my point. My point here is WHY? Why must great speakers and writers use such language? Is it really that necessary? I dare say it’s not.

The Language Legends

Bill Cosby is arguably one of the greatest comedians and actors of the late 20th century. I grew up watching The Cosby Show and was brought to ‘happy’ tears with Cosby’s hilarious stand-up routines discussing parenthood, family, etc. Cosby was loved by almost everyone of that generation and never once did he feel the need to interject profanity into his efforts to make others smile.

Jim Rohn, in my opinion, was the greatest self-improvement expert of the second half of the 20th century as well as the beginning of the 21st century until he passed away in 2009. During his lifetime, Rohn touched millions of people by speaking at thousands and thousands of seminars across the globe. And how many of those millions heard Rohn curse?

Zero. None. Nada. Zilch.

Need other examples? Well there’s Ghandi, Obama (in public), News anchors, etc—-the list goes on and on.

Get to the Point Marcus

I cite these examples because it makes no sense to me why so many speakers and writers feel like they can’t be effective without the use of curse words. Fact is, such a style does not add to one’s skills, and although it might make a few people laugh or giggle or think the orator is ‘cool’, there will also always be others who become offended and end up saying ‘enough is enough’.

Therefore, if we, as professionals in our field truly desire to touch as many people as possible, why would we risk our effectiveness over a few simple words? Is it really worth it? Can we do better? I say we can, which is why it is my hope that we can all reach our communication potential and touch as many lives as possible.

To close, may I simply refer to this famous quote, the author of which is unknown:

“When a man uses profanity to support an argument, it indicates that either the man or the argument is weak – probably both”

What are your thoughts on the subject? Join me tonight at #BWEchat on Twitter at 9:00 EST. We’ll be discussing Swearing in Social Media and I’ll be joined by Jason Falls of Social Media Examiner.

The story of Marcus Sheridan is a unique one. In 2001, he stumbled across his first business with two friends and began installing swimming pools out of the back of a beat-up pickup truck. 9 years later, and with the help of incredible innovations through inbound and content marketing, Sheridan’s company became one of the largest pool installers in the country and currently has the most visited swimming pool web site in the world.

With such success, in late 2009, Sheridan started his sales/marketing/and personal development blog—The Sales Lion, and has since grown it to one of the strongest blog communities on the web. With so much success teaching others about content and inbound marketing, Sheridan has now moved on to become a very popular keynote and business speaker, known for his boundless energy and contagious enthusiasm when on stage.

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  • Chris Harris

    As a new blogger I have had a similar article bumping around in my mind because I have noticed the same thing. I am really surprised by how many folks in the personal development area use profanity in their public discourse. It is not that I am offended by it as much as its that I don’t want those words sneaking into my thoughts or my speech. I don’t want my children hearing those words from me or anyone else.When I have heard or seen those words, I am hard pressed to think of a time where they added to the prose. As I write this I cannot think of an exception.I personally see the use of profanity as a weakness, and I do not want to share in that weakness. Our words proceed from our hearts, they are an expression of what resides in us. 
    I do not say this as someone who is holier than thou- far from it. Like anyone else I lack perfection and have my own weaknesses- it is part of my interest in personal development. But I don’t want to trade one weakness for another.As a result, for those who choose to use profanity- I do tune out the vast majoirty of people who use profanity. I unsubscribe from RSS and email feeds. I will not even look at their offerings.
    I know a lot of people who curse will say its just words or that I am being judgmental. 
    But I have to ask- do they use profanity or would they use profanity with their own children or someone else’s children? A rule I try to use regarding my speech is to ask if I would say what I am about to say to my wife or children. What is it about being an adult that makes profanity okay to use?
    I am really surprised by how many folks in the personal development area use profanity in their public discourse. It is not that I am offended by it as much as its that I don’t want those words sneaking into my thoughts or my speech. I don’t want my children hearing those words from me or anyone else.When I have heard or seen those words, I am hard pressed to think of a time where they added to the prose. As I write this I cannot think of an exception.I personally see the use of profanity as a weakness, and I do not want to share in that weakness. Our words proceed from our hearts, they are an expression of what resides in us. 
    I do not say this as someone who is holier than thou- far from it. Like anyone else I lack perfection and have my own weaknesses- it is part of my interest in personal development. But I don’t want to trade one weakness for another.As a result, for those who choose to use profanity- I do tune out the vast majoirty of people who use profanity. I unsubscribe from RSS and email feeds. I will not even look at their offerings.
    I know a lot of people who curse will say its just words or that I am being judgmental. 
    But I have to ask- do they use profanity or would they use profanity with their own children or someone else’s children? A rule I try to use regarding my speech is to ask if I would say what I am about to say to my wife or children. What is it about being an adult that makes profanity okay to use?

    • Marcus Sheridan,The Sales Lion

      Hey Chris, strong thoughts, and appreciate what you’re saying here. As a father of 4 myself, I’m pleased with the fact that every message I’ve ever delivered in front of my audience and been recorded can be viewed by my own kids, without me having to push pause and fast forward.

      And yes, there are many in the personal development field that think cursing helps. Even Tony Robbins does it. What’s interesting is that his mentor was Jim Rohn, and Rohn never would have stood for that from his ‘pupil’. Furthermore, Robbins made most of his money with informercials in the 90s. And do you know how many of those infomercials had curse words? Yep, zero. I guess he thought it was ‘cooler’ later on in life…

  • LUCY

    This is a very bad generalization. The message should fit your audience and the purpose you are trying to achieve. Can you imagine 50cent or eminem not cursing? If “good ol boys” are not your audience (or an audience you care about) then you really dont have to be sensitive to their perception.

    Also, there is a BIG difference between having a presenter curse than reading a curse word. There are too many factors to consider to just say “dont curse”. Not cursing puts you on the “safe side” but successful people are rarely safe.

    • Marcus Sheridan,The Sales Lion

      Hi Lucy. This article has nothing to do with singing. It has to do with the question: Is cursing necessary for powerful communication?

      And speaking of generalizations, are you saying that people that don’t curse in blogs or in speeches are always too safe? Seriously?

      • Rick Calvert

        I will agree with you on this one Marcus and take it a step further. We are all responsible for our words as well as our actions. Words can elevate or degrade the conversation and even society as a whole. (Wow am I sounding old).

        As you know Marcus I am not afraid of adult language but context is important and purpose is important. If you are choosing adult language for humor, to emphasize a point and it is audience appropriate then I have no problem with it.

        If you are using it to exploit, capitalize and spread hatred then you have acted irresponsibly or possibly with malice in my opinion.

        That said I would never be the one to call for any kind of government restrictions on speech even hate speech.  

        I would love to get Brian Cuban to weigh in on this one. gonna message him now =p.

    • Chris Harris

      Hi Lucy. Why would this be a bad generalization. Aside from what I have already expressed in my previous comments. I consider it good manners and a sign of class when someone chooses not to curse.

      What does profanity add to any conversation that someone couldn’t get without it?

      Better yet- will there ever be someone who is offended if you don’t curse.

  • Steve Woodruff

    I, for one, see no value in the use of gratuitous profanity in public discourse, and it lowers my esteem for the speaker. Also, guess what sorts of posts – no matter how well written or argued – I don’t link to or tweet out? It’s a matter of free choice, of course – be profane if you feel it’s important to you – but understand that schoolyard speech always comes with a price. Choose wisely…

  • Keith Bloemendaal

    My only thought is that one should be who they are, Vaynerchuck uses profanity because that is who he is. Ash from The Middle Finger project… same thing. I say be you before trying to be someone else.

    At the same time, you could be losing customers too…. I guess I am torn.

    • Marcus Sheridan,The Sales Lion

      I very much understand what you’re saying here Keith, but to tell you the truth, I think we wayyyy over use the phrase ‘be who you are’. Even Gary V filters his thoughts and content at times. It just depends on where he is. We all do it in some way or another. Take Obama for example. We all know he cusses in private, but the guy became known as one of the greatest communicators ever during his speeches leading to the white house. And how many times did he cuss? Zero. Did he ever want to? I’m sure he did, but he had to filter his content to affect the greatest amount of people. Now granted, this is an extreme example, but I’m just trying to show that we all filter. Every one of us. It’s a matter of time, place, etc.

      • Keith Bloemendaal

        I disagree on the overplaying of being yourself here Marcus, and while I understand what you are saying about Obama (he is a good speech reader), I think running for public office might be a bit different (apples and oranges). So, I really think it depends on your audience, if you have always used profanity then people no that, it’s who you are, I wouldn’t in a professional atmosphere…. but I have never spoken at conferences either 🙂 

  • Judy Dunn

    Interesting and thoughtful piece, Marcus. I blogged on this topic—on profanity in blog posts, not personal presentations— a few months ago. As a writer by trade, I may have a skewed view of this but my premise is that some F-bomb bloggers are just too lazy to find the right words to make their points. It is possible to express anger without using profanities. I just unsubscribed from a “leading” blogger’s site because I was tired of wading through the obscenities to get to the message. And I may be old-fashioned but I do think it’s disrespectful to your readers. 

    As far as in-person profanity goes, don’t need it there, either. It just isn’t needed to make a point. And, for me, those words are so overused that they have lost any original meaning they might have had. We have all become DESENSITIZED. Guess it boils down to who you are speaking to: yourself or your audience. I wouldn’t want to offend a single person in mine.  : )

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