Your Office Coach: Tell cussing colleague to clean up his language

I have a co-worker who curses loudly whenever he gets upset. "Nick" uses highly offensive language describing various sexual acts and bodily functions. Because we work in a large cubicle farm with five-foot walls, Nick's ranting can be clearly heard by everyone. To make it worse, customers routinely pass through this area on their way to meetings.

I have personally warned Nick that his salty language could get him in trouble, and others have talked to him as well. Each time, Nick tones it down for a couple of days, but then the swearing starts up again. Should I keep trying to convince him or just give up?

Nick's obscene outbursts would be inappropriate under any circumstances, but the fact that customers witness these tirades makes them an even more serious problem. Since confronting Nick directly seems to have no effect, it's time to have a talk with his manager. If possible, take along a colleague to verify your observations.

For example: "We're afraid that Nick may be giving customers a negative impression of our department. Whenever he gets upset, he begins yelling obscenities which many of us find offensive. If a customer were to complain, that would make us all look bad, so we would appreciate your talking to him about this."

If you are reluctant to rat out your cursing colleague, remember that you may actually be doing him a favor. A customer complaint to higher management would undoubtedly produce much more dire consequences.

Marie G. McIntyre, a workplace coach, is the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Send in questions at, or on Twitter officecoach.