We're a great company. I swear!

A landscaping firm was doing some work for an elderly couple living in a quaint neighbourhood. They were rather proper folk, and one day the lady approached the foreman politely and explained she had a complaint about his workers.

The foreman was surprised. “Why Ma’am, what could you possibly have against my guys? They are all hard working, straight-shooting men of integrity. These are the kind of guys who call a spade a spade!” he said.

The lady replied, “Well then, can you please ask them to stop calling it a @#$%! shovel?!”

Maybe it’s the machine that breaks down every time you’re on deadline or maybe it’s the foreman who’s constantly losing tools. There are many things on the jobsite that can provoke us to the point of unleashing a litany of offensive words. But even when we’re at a boiling point, we need to stop and hold our tongues.

Words matter. This principle is expressed often around our office. As I spend more and more time digging in my thesaurus and dictionary, the simple power of words — to attract or repulse — astounds me. The words we choose say a lot about us — how we conduct our business, what our character is like, and how we treat people.

Words matter. Not just the language on your website or in your ads, but also the words you choose in speaking to your suppliers, colleagues, staff or within earshot of your customers. It should be understood that while a brand is built by a thousand positive little touches, it can be undone by relatively few “F-bombs.”

“While a brand is built by a thousand positive little touches, it can be undone by relatively few 'F-bombs.'”

Most agree that we should watch how we talk to our customers. But if profanity is not appropriate for conversation with a client, why do some think it’s appropriate in other conversations at work? I don’t want to sound like a lecturing schoolmarm, but more than once I’ve been surprised by the choice of words, or rather the choice words that some have used in our boardroom, far from the rough and tumble environment of the jobsite.

I’m no prude. I’m not naive. I know about workday “trucker mouth” from over ten seasons working in landscape maintenance. It seems to come with the territory and it can simply become a habit. I know about the frustrations that come with your job too. But there’s a big difference between letting an expletive slip when you’ve jammed your hand between two pieces of flagstone and using colourful adjectives for everything in your world from tools to teammates. If profanity has edged its way into your company culture my advice is to take every necessary step to get rid of it. It’s unprofessional at every level.

Allowed to continue, it can slowly bleed into every conversation. It will get harder and harder to keep it from customers. And at that point, no amount of “wordsmithing” on your brochure or website is going to re-align you with the solid brand you’ve worked so hard to develop.

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