Hone Your Skills

The Psychology Of Cursing: Is It Acceptable To Swear In The Workplace?

February 18, 2022
5 Min Read

Understandably, this isn’t something you may feel comfortable asking your boss or HR representative. Thankfully, a 2015 study published in Language Sciences did the grunt work for you. 

The researchers suggested that their findings pointed toward an increased acceptability of swearwords because they can help express strong emotions while simultaneously communicating honesty since they’re not polite or socially acceptable.

Perhaps even more interesting is that those who rated themselves as having a larger vocabulary of curse words also reported being higher in verbal intelligence. Let’s take a better look at the research behind swearing and if it’s really appropriate for the workplace. 

Swearing May Help You Perform Better in the Workplace

Studies have shown that cursing can do more than just make you sound like a sailor. According to a new study by the University of East Anglia, swearing can help you perform better in some tasks. 

Swear words are evocative because they involve lots of sensory information (sights, sounds, feelings). The more you know about a word, the better you are able to remember it and use it (for example, when playing Scrabble).

This study also showed that swearing can increase physical performance. In one experiment, participants were asked to submerge their hands in ice water for as long as possible before giving up. Those who swore were able to keep their hands submerged for 40 seconds on average. Those who didn’t swear only lasted 25 seconds on average. Researchers speculate this effect was due to swearing triggering the fight or flight response: an evolutionary mechanism that prepares us for danger by increasing heart rate and releasing adrenaline, making us feel stronger and energized.

At work, this could translate into swearing out loud to yourself to validate your own negative emotions. Once your emotions are validated, you will be able to easily move on since those emotions have been processed. Without processing these negative emotions, you could experience high levels of anxiety or anger at work that could impede performance. Of course swearing isn’t the only way to process emotions, but it does work for many people. 

But What About At Work?

The question of whether swearing is acceptable in the workplace is tricky, because it so often depends on context. If you live in a country where cursing is taboo and your job involves a lot of public interaction, chances are you shouldn’t start letting loose with your favorite profanities at work. 

But if you work in an environment that’s considered more informal or progressive, there may be more leeway. How someone uses profanity also matters: Studies have shown that it’s more socially acceptable to use swear words casually (e.g., saying “Oh my God” to express shock) than to use them aggressively (e.g., calling someone an idiot).

Swearing can also have several benefits, such as relieving stress, easing pain, and establishing trust. In the workplace specifically, some people might see those qualities as positive aspects of their employees; others less so. But even if swearing doesn’t get you fired immediately—and it very well could—it could still slow down your career progression by making bosses and colleagues perceive you as unprofessional or annoying.

While Workplace Cursing Is Generally Frowned Upon, It Might Be Tolerated Under Certain Circumstances.

Swearing at work is likely to be frowned upon in corporate America, even if it's just a momentary lapse in your seemingly otherwise "clean" language. Many organizations have formal policies that forbid the use of explicit language, and even those that do not tend to consider it unprofessional. So what do you do when you're feeling particularly frustrated or passionate about something?

The answer might be more nuanced than you think. For instance, swearing might be tolerated when used to express strong emotion (i.e., after a frustrating exchange with a customer), or if used in a humorous way (i.e., telling an office joke). However, swearing should never be used to insult others; doing so is inappropriate and unprofessional regardless of the level of cursing involved. 

Other situations warrant caution as well. If your colleagues are offended by swearing, avoid using it around them altogether; there's no need for unnecessary discomfort involving co-workers that could affect workplace morale and productivity negatively. 

Similarly, since children are present at some workplaces, such as schools and day care centers, keep clean language in mind when working with kids—or better yet, don't swear at all!

While Swearing May Not Get You Fired, It Could Slow Down Your Career Progression By Creating Barriers That Prevent You From Advancing.

We've all been around people who swear like sailors—someone who uses it more often than they should probably isn't exactly going to make a positive impression on the hiring manager. The same goes for someone who constantly cusses under his breath when they're speaking with clients and colleagues, because this kind of behavior is bound to get them noticed eventually. 

The bottom line is; if you want to be taken seriously in your field, you need to learn to keep your cool and avoid any type of profanity whenever possible.

It's Important To Use Good Judgment When It Comes To Office Language

It's important to use good judgment when it comes to office language, so take your workplace into consideration. Is swearing acceptable? If a cuss word is harmless at your job, chances are that it won't hurt you to drop one here or there. However, if cursing isn't allowed in your workplace, it is certainly best to avoid using foul language. Similarly, if you're working with clients or trying to impress your manager for a promotion, swear words may not be worth the risk.

If you're wondering how to handle cursing in the workplace without feeling like you have to completely change who you are, there's no need to worry. Although some people use profanity as part of their normal vocabulary, everyone can learn how and when they should refrain from doing so at work.

By being aware of others' reactions and taking into account the standards of your company culture, you'll be able to choose when and where cursing is most appropriate for what you have in mind! You may even learn some better, more work-appropriate words in the process.

Say it like you mean it.

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