Are we more honest when we swear?

There’s a strong sense that swearing remains something that is rather frowned upon in the workplace.  It signifies a person that’s out of control and aggressive.

Alas, a recent study suggests that those who swear a lot also tend to be more honest than their more well spoken peers.

To curse is to tell the truth?

Our reaction to swearing often comes down to the frequency with which we do it.  It’s estimated, for instance, that the average Briton swears 14 times a day, with 90% of us uttering some unmentionables at least once per day.

It’s this familiarity that underpinned the findings of the study I started this post with.  The logic goes that because we all tend to swear, if we swear in an unusual context, such as at work, then we’re actually being down to earth and ‘normal’, and therefore more likely to be believed.

It suggests that we regard profanity laden dialog as unfiltered and sincere, and the authors go as far as to cite Donald Trump as an example of someone not afraid to drop in a cuss here and there, and who was widely associated with being authentic by his followers.

“The relationship between profanity and dishonesty is a tricky one. Swearing is often inappropriate but it can also be evidence that someone is telling you their honest opinion. Just as they aren’t filtering their language to be more palatable, they’re also not filtering their views,” the authors say.

Indeed, a previous study found that judicious use of swear words can help to make us more persuasive than our peers.

A third study suggested it might help with team building.  The logic is similar to that of the previous two, in the sense that swearing is considered normal, and therefore swearing at work can create a bond between people that didn’t previously exist.

Turning the air blue

Does that mean you should start littering your workplace conversations with a few choice words?  I’d say the jury is still out.  For instance, a recent survey found that most employers still regard profanity as unprofessional.

What’s more, swearing is typically something we do when we’re angry or negative, and there have been numerous studies highlighting the pernicious effect this has on the workplace, and indeed the often viral nature of such behaviors.

So, whilst we all want our workplaces to be human and real, we don’t want them to descend into aggressive, bullying environments.  It would seem, therefore, that context is key.  The occasional swear word can be effective, but there is a fine line over which you should endeavor not to cross.

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