Will Dropping the Occasional F-Bomb Help You Build Trust at Work?

profanityI’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.

16 Comments on “Will Dropping the Occasional F-Bomb Help You Build Trust at Work?

  1. The use of profanity elevates nothing; not attitudes, not spirits, not commaraderie, not higher thinking.
    I’m simply not buying it.

  2. Randy, Great question. Most often, I am not a fan and try to avoid, although I may miss the mark from time-to-time. What I don’t like is people who put profanity in Facebook posts or blog posts. I am not sure it helps the content, and it seems like it is just done for some effect, like they are “cool” or “in your face” when done. As leaders and examples, I think we should strive to set an example of decency as often as we can. Thanks! Jon

  3. I find no use for profanity. It has become the current verbal punctuation for those lack the skills to express themselves with civility. The tidal wave of profanity is evidence of the death throes of polite society.
    The “f-bomb” is not appropriate in polite company, in educated company, or in any professional setting. If one cannot express himself or herself adequately, perhaps they should consider silence.
    “It is better to be silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

  4. We use profanity in our workplace. I tend to not use it when I first start a new job, until I feel out the culture of my new surroundings. I personally feel a lot more at ease with people that are willing to use curse words in a professional setting as long as it is not used negatively – i.e for berating people or such things. And as long as everyone knows the place curse words should hold – for example don’t use them during board meetings or with executives (unless it is well known said executive uses them too) etc.

    I also understand the viewpoint that people that curse may come off as unintelligent, but to me those are only the people that pepper every few words with vulgarities and have other additional qualities that cause me to perceive them that way. I find some of the most intelligent people I know have no issue cursing through out the day…. and have been told myself multiple times that people assume me to be intelligent – and believe you me, I curse several times a day. There are many other factors that contribute to the perception of someone’s intelligence than simply the fact that they utilize curse words in their everyday vernacular.

    • Thanks for adding your insights. You make an important point about the value of understanding the context and the organizational culture. In some professions or organizational cultures cursing is the norm and people don’t think twice. In others it’s frowned upon. It may be a case of “When in Rome…”

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment.


  5. Be careful of accusing or judging others. It is not your place. As long as profanity is not directed towards someone or intended to hurt anyone then it is no big deal.

  6. Hi Randy, I really appreciate the point about context. I would also add that all things in professional settings (private as well) require high levels of customized discretion. To this day, I’m still working on a piece called ‘The Art of Discretion’. :-). On a side note, I really admire your commitment in writing a piece for us each week. Some people I don’t think realize how much effort and dedication that takes. Kudos to you. Take care.

  7. In my humble opinion, words are just words until you add context, sentiment and/or intent to them, which will put them into the right positive or negative light. I do, also agree, the use of profanity is highly dependant on the environment and situation. Using cuss words at work does certainly signal a level of familial comfort and trust between colleagues.

    • Good feedback Jeff. It is the context, sentiment, and intent that give words their meaning. What I find challenging to understand is the use of profanity every third or fourth word in a sentence. To me that indicates a lack of thought and consideration in the words being used.

      Take care,


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