Psychologists Say It Might Be A Good Thing To Cuss In The Workplace

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Photo: Screenshot via ESPN

There aren’t many expressions that can get your point across like a loud and clear BLEEP every now and then, but how much foul language is too much in the workplace? In 2011, Carol Bartz, Yahoo’s infamous F-bomb repeated offender and former CEO, was terminated after several expletive slips, including an incident where she told Yahoo employees that she would “drop kick them to fucking Mars” if they leaked any information to the public.

Goldman Sachs decided to ban cursing — and swear words spelled with asterisks — in 2010 after an employee wrote that a deal was “shitty” in an email.

In the modern workplace, does cursing affect how your co-workers view you and if yes, is it a bad or good thing? What about words that are meant to take the place of actual swearing, such as “WTF” or “B.S.”?

Researchers at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. found in a study that swearing actually helped co-workers build relationships with one another and enabled them to express their feelings. 

Anne Kreamer at The Harvard Business Review says that swearing helped her in her first banking jobs and “granted [her] access to the kind of casual gossiping and information-trading upon which deals are sometimes built”: 

“Swearing,” as one senior female attorney told [Kreamer], “gives others, men and women, reciprocal permission to let their hair down and feel comfortable sharing revelations.” This approach — swearing as an effective social tool that can enhance work relationships and allow women in particular to present an equal-to-men or even crypto-masculine identity — has been documented by psychology and linguistics researchers.

Dr. Robert Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford Engineering School, told Sean Stonefield in Forbes that “taboo words have an emotional impact that replacements cannot equal,” and when public figures use these expletives, they appear more relatable and are able to get their point across more effectively. 

But like everything else, better use these emotionally-explosive words sparingly, or your co-workers may start to believe they’re working alongside a ticking time bomb waiting to go off, which doesn’t normally elicit feelings of reliability or trust. 

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