by Michele Morrissey
Public speakers strive to be engaging and spontaneous. Everyone wants to “bring it.” Finding the balance between expressing oneself through one’s quintessential voice and persona and a executing a communication style that cultivates relatedness and facilitates connectivity with their audience, is a part of the complex artistry involved in being a competent speaker. What if the speaker feels that the truest expression of himself or herself involves swearing? Is it risky to do so? Why or why not?
1. Let’s understand where swear words are processed in the brain. When we use or process swear words, our “feeling brain” (the amygdala) is typically aroused; the same part of your brain that is heightened in times of fear and anxiety or need to preserve safety. Surely, the suggestion is not that swear words send us into anxiety attacks. However, we are wired for certainty; even in our communication exchanges. Speakers will want to consider whether they’re fine with risking the possibility creating an atmosphere of uncertainty or unease in a moment when you want to facilitate relatedness.
2. Consider brand stability and familiarity. Speakers with a well-established brand simply have the benefit of established credibility and expertise. The best is assumed with speakers with established credibility – they can be viewed through rose-colored glasses, if you will. Therefore, with value already in place and/or presumed, the likelihood of alienating or offending one’s audience is less probable. Hey, it might not be fair, but biases are real!
3. Remember why we communicate. Although we may shake things up to get our message across, the overall purposes of communication are to connect, relate, and influence. Again, more established speakers might be in a better place to take a risk, as they usually have accomplished all three within their audience to a certain degree. Offense often takes place when we’ve ventured to influence without having secured the foundations of relating and connecting.
4. Purpose matters! For example, if you are a motivational speaker, shock and awe are expected from the audience; taking the chance may have less of an adverse impact. Some leaders use choice words to show they are vehemently committed to solve a problem; in that case, lack of formality may be more easily accepted. In the end, one must know their audience, examine their motives, and use good judgment as they anticipate possible reactions.
Whatever one’s style, whether they choose to code-switch or code-mesh, messages should be thoughtfully crafted. In any dynamic, be it one to one or speaker to audience, relationships run smoother with norms that are comfortable for all involved.
“CiNii Books – Effective Communication Skills.” CiNii Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2016.
“The Science of Swearing: A Look into the Human MIND and Other Less Socially Acceptable Four-letter Words.” Harvard Science Review. N.p., 2014. Web. 14 Dec. 2016.
Michele Gilliam Morrissey, M.A., CCC-SLP is the CEO and founder of Lucidity. With a Master of Arts in Speech-Language Pathology and a Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, Michele brings a depth of academic study and preparation to her practice that sets her apart from her peers.
She adds sensitivity to her profession that has been cultivated from years of working with people of all demographics outside of the classroom and digging into complex communications problems to develop wide-reaching solutions.
Michele Gilliam Morrissey’s progressive work blends science, a real-world approach, and a passion for helping people to communicate with intent, impact, and influence. An educator and communication coach with over two decades of experience, she transforms thinking with her laser-sharp analysis and consultative expertise.