Is swearing ever acceptable in the workplace?

A recent LinkedIn News article stated research showing that swearing can have a positive effect on the workplace. Bad language can create ‘closeness, trust and solidarity’ amongst staff, as well as serving to ‘humanise a difficult situation or create empathy’.

The caveat to this is such that foul words are obviously not directed at co-workers or contain personal insults. Swearing needs to clearly distance itself from both bullying and prejudice.

According to a UK survey of 100 companies across 14 industries, accountants, bankers and people in finance are at the top of the league for swearing during team meetings. Their most commonly used expletive being ‘f**k’, whilst lawyers preferred  ‘bull***t’ and those working in media favoured ‘boll***s’. However, if you work in the charity and volunteering sector you are least likely to utter profanities.

Many of the professionals comments proceeding the article were a clear NO… swearing should never be acceptable in the workplace as it is deemed inappropriate and disrespectful. This is perhaps a little restrictive, the sharing of a vulgar lexicon can undoubtedly destress and unite colleagues. Let’s face it, when talking about 2020 few people can disagree that it can only be described as an utter s**tshow.

You must know your audience… an integral part of developing your business acumen is being able to assess the current environment and cater to the immediate needs of the conversation. Any bad language you choose to use must have context and not just gratuitously litter your speech.

If swearing becomes too fluent in your vocabulary, it might become more difficult to switch on and off, curbing your language when necessary. However, it is not unusual  to develop two opposing personas; countless celebrities, whom we know to pepper their conversations with swearing on a day-to-day basis, are able to abstain from profanities when required to on primetime TV.

A recommended book written by Emma Byrne ‘Swearing is good for you – the amazing science of bad language’ collates fascinating research as to why swearing is a useful part of language that teaches us about our brains, emotions and society. In her conclusion she presents the metaphor that: “Swearing is like mustard; a great ingredient but a lousy meal.” So acknowledge its potency and use sparingly.

It is far less about the vocabulary and more about the level of aggression and tone with which it is delivered. Be attuned to your surroundings and exercise restraint if you are at all uncertain. 

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