Gordon Ramsay likes a good swear. While he might be considered an extreme example, the Scottish passion he puts into his food and the restaurants he tries to help on Kitchen Nightmares represent a fine example of motivation and the drive to productivity. Sure, it comes with a regular verbal barrage, but the message behind his words is clear.
Apparently, 60% of those restaurants still fail, but that’s more because of the bickering staff and flawed business ideas. The fact that Ramsay can help turn 40% of them around is still pretty impressive. His example might also be leading to a new generation of potty-mouthed business leaders. That may be a good or bad development, depending on which side of the firing line you’re on.
So can the odd swear help to boost team spirit, relieve stress and increase productivity? While outbursts of swearing were common in the workplace last century, the drive towards a placid, HR-friendly, environment often frowns on such behavior. That being the case, what are the limits and how far can you go?
Swear to boost your career
Recent research from the U.K. suggests that the odd swear is actually good for your career. It can help ingratiate you with the team. It can show you’re not “stuck up” or a humorless drone and is a sign of humanity in an often featureless landscape of business speak.
Swearing can also act as punctuation in conversation, especially when you’ve worked with someone for some time. You can use it or recognize it in others as a “this is important” alert, to highlight jokes or sarcasm that others may be taking verbatim and so on.
A swear can also help express complex issues like dissatisfaction, unhappiness, worry or concern, without an extensive dialogue in which any message could get lost or mistranslated. Reducing messages to the universal language of swearing can save a lot of time.
A healthy swear can also demonstrate passion for a project or task. Frustration at something going wrong or celebrating its success can sound more natural and believable if someone is willing to literally swear by it.
The pros and cons of a swear
The benefits of the odd swear in the office include:
- Providing clarity or adding urgency to a message.
- Breaking the ice and setting people at ease.
- Letting off steam and settling issues verbally, without further conflict.
- Warning people not to antagonize you further.
Risks to swearing in the office include:
- The chance of alienating people, and being summoned to HR for your attitude.
- Making people less likely to want to work with you, especially if swearing becomes a growing habit.
- The risk of swearing turning to slurs and other derogatory terms, causing serious issues.
- Swearing slipping outside the group into wider use, which could damage client/business relations.
How to swear like a pro
Many high-intensity workplaces like sales teams, the armed forces, emergency services and others can find swearing as part of their lingua franca, uniting people whatever their background. Relieving pressure can help improve morale and reduce tension.
If you enter an environment like that, then be prepared to swear with the best of them to keep your head above water. However, if swears don’t roll off your tongue naturally, limit your outbursts and slowly upgrade your usual phrases to meet the accepted norms.
On the flip side, if you are used to swearing, yet start work in a place of serene calm, then limit swearing to objects at first. Devices such as the phone, the photocopier or other failure-prone office features are prime targets. If this seems acceptable, then slowly escalate until you reach a level that starts to meet resistance. Wind that in a little and you should be fine.
Finally, if you’re in charge, then as the boss, your actions have great weight on how others will act. Consider that before launching a devastating tirade. Senseless swearing will soon limit any effect you might hope to have, so saving them for key moments is a more conservative course of action that will meet with success.
Whatever your role, whatever the environment, a spot of swearing can bring benefits but can also cause upset or pain. So, consideration is key, and moderation is probably the best option in any business.