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Saturday, April 13, 2024
CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Advisory - Teams that swear more win more

CEO Advisory

Teams that swear more win more

Adrian Baillargeon

Research suggests swearing amongst teams can be a good thing. But how and where you do it can be the difference between your team shining or sinking. 

When I moved to Australia from Canada, I noticed swearing was more common in everyday conversation. At work, I encountered several colleagues unafraid to drop the occasional F-bomb, prompting debate amongst my peers about the merits of swearing. To our surprise, we were all right. Australians do swear a lot. And it’s good for you.

A study conducted by SEEK revealed that 65% of Aussies admit to swearing at work.  Americans also enjoy the odd profanity at work, with 57% of US workers having heard a colleague swear at work. Canadians swore similarly – another study found that 46% of those friendly Canadians have cussed at work. On behalf of my fellow Canadians, I am sorry… but not sorry.

Relationships matter most, and cursing creates camaraderie.

So whilst a good chunk of us swear at work, it’s ok; having a potty mouth can benefit a team’s performance.

High performance relies on mature relationships underpinned by trust and connection. Low and behold, swearing can help strengthen those two factors.  Studies have also shown that we tend to swear more around people “we trust, and swearing can help to create trust.”

Emma Byrne, author of Swearing is Good for You, summed up swearing research best. “When you look at the transcripts of case studies of effective teams in sectors like manufacturing and IT, those that can joke with each other in ways that transgress polite speech, which includes a lot of swearing, tend to report that they trust each other more.”

So there you have it – swearing amongst colleagues is suitable for building trust. Fire off those F-bombs, right?

It’s how you swear in teams that makes the difference

Ok, so swearing amongst team members has benefits. However, this does not open the door for a tirade of profanities at your next Zoom meeting. Cursing can also close off strong connections.

Three ways to swear that helps your team

There are no 10 Commandments of when it’s ok to swear at work, and the appropriateness in this environment is subjective. Exercise caution and good judgment when deciding to shake things up with an expletive. To help, here are three ways to build robust dynamics among team members using some sprinkled language.

  • Swear by your teammates. When groups do this, they are also saying, “I trust you, I have your back, and I support you.”  Who doesn’t feel motivated after hearing this?
  • Swear to let off some steam. In this context, it’s an effective way to release stress when the pressure is high. Doing it in front of your team tells them you are comfortable being yourself, and indirectly, you may need their help.
  • Swear to sympathise. By dropping your guard and adding some colourful language to your sympathy, you demonstrate you care and are willing to be vulnerable by being your authentic self.

Three no-go-zones for swearing amongst your team

Occasional and appropriate swearing can help a team’s performance, and it can also do the opposite. Profanity can create discomfort, decrease morale, damage your team’s brand and indicate a lack of control. Witnessing a manager drop eight (yes, eight) F-words in a row for the entire office floor to hear was a good reminder that swearing can impact what people think of you. Here are three no-go zones for swearing amongst your team.

  • Don’t swear about someone. Sledging a teammate – to their face or behind their back – will only cause more issues down the track. Trust erodes, productivity drops and can increase anxiety among team members can increase as rumours circulate.
  • Avoid swearing in sticky situations. Clashes, disagreements, or difficult conversations are emotive at the best of times, and swearing will only fuel that fire. Remain as calm as possible, speak factually and avoid using abrasive adjectives.
  • Steer clear from swearing with colleagues who may find it offensive.  It’s essential to respect others’ feelings when it comes to cursing. Err on the side of caution. If you release an expletive, apologise and gauge the reaction of your teammates. If they laugh it off, you should be ok. If they don’t, your apology will go a long way to strengthening the trust and confidence in your relationship.

A couple of other considerations when choosing to let loose your linguistic lightning bolts:

  • Be aware of the tone and volume of your swearing. As many of us witnessed, swearing that can be heard across from one side of the room to the other won’t do you any favours either.
  • “Swearing power” has diminishing returns. Studies show that people who swear the most benefit the least. So choose your moments wisely!

Connection conquers all in teams.

When you and your colleagues connect, you build trust. Swearing can help when done the right way. Get it wrong; your team sinks. Get it right; your team wins.

Disclaimer: I am not a huge swearer (although I have grown accustomed to the Australian way over time!).  Whilst the research supports swearing in certain circumstances, I’m not advocating for workplaces to (unnaturally) become a mess hall for profanities. What I do preach is for teams to agree on, practice and celebrate productive behaviours while addressing issues face to face. If swearing helps you and your team, fantastic. If you are uncomfortable using unruly language, find what works for you and win the games that matter most to you.


Written by Adrian Baillargeon.

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Advisory - Teams that swear more win more
Adrian Baillargeon
Adrian Baillargeon is an international conference speaker and leadership team performance expert who helps determined leaders make their teams shine and win the games that matter most to them.


Adrian Baillargeon is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website CLICK HERE.