I was reading on Forbes’ website the other day, that one of the worst mistakes you can make in terms of damaging one’s own executive presence, is racially biased language. You’d hope that’d be obvious. But I’ve been in meetings and presentations and lectures where these things are said, and they’re very hard to take back.
Saying ‘racially biased language’ distances us from the reality of what that phrase actually means; no one I’ve ever come across tries to be casually racist, or sexist, or prejudiced in front of others. These things usually slip out a well meaning but off-colour joke. It’s so easy to do, and often they work – that’s why they come out. But cross the line, just by an inch, or even just catch people in a more than usually sensitive mood, and you can land yourself in deep trouble, or put people off you. Reputation is after all your biggest asset.
There’s nothing wrong with having a joke, or being candid from time to time, but in a professional environment, these things must remain within professional boundaries. If you think a joke or comment errs on the side of risqué, consider it risqué. Don’t swear in a business environment, not even for impact, and remember; you don’t need to be guarded with everything you say, but people will remember what you say, and you can’t unsay it.