Written by Udi Ledergor
It’s something Americans do about 80 times a day according to a 2016 study. Yet more so than walking into an important meeting half an hour late, or swapping detailed salary information with colleagues, swearing in the workplace is still seen as taboo. In fact, a 2015 survey found that 81% of employers believed swearing at work “brings an employee’s professionalism into question.”
But just like movie producer Darryl Zanuck, who in 1946 infamously said the TV would just be a fad, this opinion isn’t aging well. Study after study on this subject have all come to the same conclusion: Cursing has many benefits in both our private and professional lives. Let’s dive into a few of them.
On a personal level, people who swear often lie less frequently, have higher levels of integrity and emotional intelligence, possess a larger vocabulary and are linked with having higher IQs. Cursing conveys feelings and opinions not captured by everyday language, so people are able to glean more about the other party from conversations and end up making stronger connections leading to greater trust. Choosing the appropriate kind of word (mild or strong) demonstrates that you understand the mentality of the person that you’re speaking to so they’re more inclined to believe you.
Swearing even has health benefits. Stubbed your toe? A well-timed “ah, crap, come on!” can actually reduce the discomfort you feel and increase your pain tolerance. In one study from the U.K.’s Keele University, participants were able to keep their hand submerged in ice water for 50% longer when they were uttering curses instead of using neutral language. The next time you need a little help getting through that butt-kicking HIIT class, try some fun four-letter words. Frequent swearers also have increased circulation, elevated endorphins, and an overall sense of calm, control, and well-being. No prescription required.
In the workplace, cursing can actually help you get ahead. Research indicates cursing increases the effectiveness and persuasiveness of an argument. The most cohesive and productive teams in sectors like manufacturing and IT joke with each other using lots of profanity and trust each other more for it. In sales situations, swearing can translate into more wins when both sides do it–8% more to be exact, based on a recent analysis from my company, Gong*, of more than 73,000 sales calls tracked by our software.
According to our research, sales professionals swear on 20% of their calls with buyers—and a sales rep is four times more likely to curse on a call if the buyer curses first. When buyers use profanity, there’s an underlying meaning that many sellers pick up on: The buyer is letting their professional guard down. They’re signaling that it’s okay to drop formality and social expectations, and that they build trust by showing their “true” selves. And smart salespeople who pick up on that cue can benefit.
Still, despite all the studies espousing its numerous benefits, cursing in many professional settings is still somewhat taboo. According to the same analysis by my company, prospects feel more comfortable swearing than sales reps but, even so, tend to wait until later-stage calls to do it. But once the prospect does add a little color to the conversation, sales reps increase their cursing by 400%, potentially leading to a better outcome.
Because it’s still not as socially acceptable for women to swear, they tend to feel less comfortable doing it in a professional sales setting, so men curse on sales calls 39% more often. But in casual situations, women and men curse just as often. With both genders, S-bombs are more popular than the F-word, accounting for 65% of recorded obscenities versus 32%.
Interestingly, humans aren’t even the only ones who do it; chimpanzees are also proponents of profanity (cats probably do too but there’s no data on this yet). In one particular group, they used sign language to make the motion for “dirty” the same way we would use different variations of the word “crap.”
Americans are swearing more than they ever have, but this trend still isn’t widespread in the workplace, despite the science showing its benefits. So the next time you’re in a brainstorm, working in a team, or just need help hitting your quarterly sales target, think about dropping the first curse because “sh*t” may indeed be a magic word.
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Content obtained from third-party sources, although believed to be reliable, has not been independently verified as to its accuracy or completeness and cannot be guaranteed. Battery Ventures has no obligation to update, modify or amend the content of this post nor notify its readers in the event that any information, opinion, projection, forecast or estimate included, changes or subsequently becomes inaccurate.