Research shows that swearing at work might actually be the key to getting ahead.
From the pages of In Business magazine.
Much like trying to define a particularly abstract word without using the word itself, I’m going to attempt to write a column about swearing at work without swearing.
Now, this could be really short — don’t swear at work. There, done, solid advice. Let’s see what’s on the next page of IB this month.
Of course, there’s a catch. There are plenty of times when you wouldn’t want to swear at work, like when you’re interacting with customers or clients. However — and hear me out — swearing might actually be the key to getting your next promotion. At the very least, it can be healthy.
So says an Aug. 4 article in the Financial Times, appropriately titled, “Smart people understand why is pays to swear at work.” The article points to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and JPMorgan Chase head honcho Jamie Dimon as examples of ardent swearers whose careers haven’t exactly suffered from the frequent use of foul language.
According to a 2016 article in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, people who swear at work may often seem more honest, credible, and persuasive. Across three related studies, researchers found a “consistent positive relationship between profanity and honesty; profanity was associated with less lying and deception at the individual level, and with higher integrity at the society level.”
Swearing can even reduce stress and boost morale. According to 2014 article from Fast Company, Swedish scientists found that employees who are treated unfairly in the workplace, and don’t have an outlet to express their frustration, double their risk of having a heart attack. Additionally, researchers at the University of East Anglia revealed that swearing at work helps workers deal with stress and anger, and cursing can actually promote team unity.
It should go without saying that swearing isn’t for everyone. For every foul-mouthed co-worker who keeps getting promoted, there’s likely another whose prospects have stalled because he or she stuck their foot in their mouth one time too many.
My personal philosophy, at least at work, is to wait for the other person to swear first. Once that door’s been opened, it’s all fair game. Prior to that, it’s much safer just to refrain from swearing.
My fifth grade teacher, Ms. Strum, told our class that swearing was for less intelligent people. That always seemed like a pretty harsh generalization to make. Intentionally and arbitrarily censoring your language doesn’t seem like a sign of intelligence to me. I’d rather have more words at my disposal than less, and while, yes, it’s true that there are plenty of words available to us to express frustration, sometimes those four-letter ones just fit the best.
Ultimately, it’s all about knowing your audience. Like my wait-and-see approach, if the co-worker you’re talking to swears first, it’s a safe bet he or she won’t much mind you swearing back. If you’ve never heard a taboo phrase cross your manager’s lips, it’s probably best to zip your own.
Just remember, your words can always come back to haunt you. A few months back, I was tucking my son, Landon, into bed and he was in a particularly salty mood. Mad at me for some unknown reason, and not wanting to hear my side of things, our conversation went like this:
Landon: “Just read the frickin’ book!”
Me: “Landon, did you just say “frickin’”?
Me: “Landon, that’s not an appropriate thing to say.”
Landon: “Well, how am I supposed to know that? I’m only 5!”
Now, whether he heard that from me, his mom, or his older brother, we’ll never know. (It was probably me.) But it’s a perfect example of knowing who you can and can’t speak freely in front of. Five-year-olds? No. A boss who likes to use the occasional expletive herself? Yes.
That said, it’s chutzpah like that that could soon earn Landon a promotion to “favorite son.”
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