When you think of the people you really don’t feel like cursing in front of, your team might be right next to your grandmother and your child’s kindergarten teacher. That’s why the new report from Sentieo may come as a surprise to you at first (insider tip).
The corporate and financial research platform recently combed a database of around 9,000 conference call transcripts looking for expletives. They found 166 that have kept them since 2021.
It’s a small percentage of the total—CEOs don’t suddenly start talking like drunken pirates—but Sentieo notes it’s a significant jump from previous years. A total of 104 transcripts contained profanity in 2020 and 112 in 2019, meaning that in 2021, the amount of Swearing at work rose by just over 60 percent year-on-year.
Why 2021 has made us all swear more
Why such a sharp rise? Perhaps everyone was so fed up with the pandemic that they couldn’t contain themselves, but given the spike in swearing since a coronavirus-ravaged 2020, that hardly seems like a satisfying explanation on its own. However, the pandemic has likely played a major role in this notable rise in profanity.
With so many people suddenly working from home over the past two years, formality has plummeted overall. It’s hard to keep your corporate face from slipping day after day when your dog or toddler routinely interrupts your Zoom calls and (at least the bottom half of) your wardrobe slips into 100 percent sweatpants. The stressors of the pandemic have also brought to light the true, if often insane, human reality behind previously cold-blooded professional colleagues.
It’s no surprise that after beaming in the messy living rooms of our colleagues and taking months off from work to deal with virus crises, we all feel freer in our language. This is bad? Swearing experts (yes, they exist) advise no.
The Surprisingly Positive Science of Swearing
As English professor Michael Adams explained in his book Praising Profanity, swearing together, at least in moderation, is a great way to bring groups together. “Bad words,” he writes, “are unexpectedly useful for strengthening human relationships because they carry risk … We like to avoid trouble, and sometimes we do this with like-minded people.”
While ignoring other people’s feelings won’t endear you to anyone, a moderate dose of profanity adds two very useful elements to a work dynamic—vulnerability and authenticity. Speaking random swear words requires revealing your true, unkempt self and risking other people’s judgment for your indecency. Close human relationships are built on these small exchanges of vulnerability and acceptance.
In short, trusting each other that they can get a little mischievous together brings teams together. And a wealth of research in the workplace shows that trusting, close-knit teams tend to work better together.
And don’t worry that swearing will make you look stupid or untrustworthy. Studies have shown that those who use profanity are actually smarter and more honest on average. “If someone swears a lot…he doesn’t filter his language, so he probably doesn’t filter his stories about what’s going on through filters like that, which can turn them into untruths,” explained David Stillwell of Cambridge University. university. co-author of one such study.
So let’s rip (within reason)
The takeaway here is not that you should be free to swear at all times. If your profanity makes others feel uncomfortable, you’re just a jerk. But if the pandemic has caused the lines between you and your team members in the workplace to blur so much that a random four-letter word slips in, don’t worry.
A few more swear words in the office isn’t just a sign that 2021 has been a very tough year. It is also a good indicator that your team is pulling together as humans to face these adversities. And it’s damn good.