I’ll be upfront with you about my viewpoint on profanity; I’m not a fan. I don’t mind the occasional use of a mild curse word, but chronic use of profanity, especially the heavy-duty vulgar words, comes across as unintelligent, rude, boorish, and a character flaw. Just my opinion.
However, there’s a school of thought that a well-timed and appropriate use of profanity might help you develop closer and more trustful relationships. A recent article from Quartz highlights a new book by Michael Adams, In Praise of Profanity. Adams, a professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Indiana, argues that profanity fosters intimacy between people because of the risk it carries. He says we like to get away with things and sometimes do so with like-minded people. Indeed, researchers from the University of East Anglia in the UK have found that occasional swearing at work can help coworkers express their feelings and build tighter relationships. These instances can serve as mini trust-bonding moments between people.
Like anything, overuse of a particular behavior can lead to bad results. Carol Bartz, former CEO of Yahoo, was famous for her prolific use of profanity that contributed to her termination. In 2010 Goldman Sachs banned the use of profanity after receiving negative blow-back from an employee who used curse words in an email.
So, would dropping the occasional F-Bomb at work help you build trust? Maybe. A lot depends on the context: the organizational culture, the situation, the people involved, the emotional tone conveyed, and of course, the choice of words.
What do you think? Do you use profanity at work? If so, how’s it working for you? Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.