Oh (Snap!) Swearing Is Good for You -- And Your Team

Last Updated Jun 10, 2011 2:43 PM EDT

Now I know why I curse more than I should. (Isn't it great when research backs up apparently unacceptable behavior?)
A study from a few years ago indicates swearing can boost team spirit. According to Professor Yehuda Baruch of the University of East Anglia, preventing workers from swearing could also have a negative impact on their team spirit.

Except in front of customers of course; in that case swearing will have a very different impact. And if the cursing is directed at another employee. And -- okay, you get it. There are limits, and there are definitely situations where cursing is never appropriate. Like most things, the right time and place is everything.

Professor Baruch says:

"... our study suggested that, in many cases, taboo language serves the needs of people for developing and maintaining solidarity, and as a mechanism to cope with stress. Banning it could backfire. The challenge is to master the art of knowing when to turn a blind eye to communication that does not meet with their own standards."
Very cool.

If you're skeptical about allowing swearing where you work, you can still take advantage of the personal benefits. Researchers at Keele University studied how long college students could keep their hands in cold water. (Yep, those are your tuition dollars hard at work.) Participants were allowed to either repeat a curse word they chose or a non-swear word.

The students who swore lasted an average of 40 seconds longer than the students who did not.

"I would advise people, if they hurt themselves, to swear," said Keele's Richard Stephens. He speculates that brain circuits linked to emotions are involved, possibly stimulating the amygdala and triggering a fight-flight response that increases your heart rate and decreases your sensitivity to pain.

But you can take a (good thing?) too far: The more you swear, the less powerful the effect on pain reduction, since you become accustomed to swearing and the swear words lose their "emotional potency."

Lose the emotional content and a curse word is just like any other word, at least to you.

So let your staff swear -- in appropriate circumstances, and especially when customers aren't around -- and by all means let loose if you hurt yourself.

Just not too often.

Photo courtesy flickr user crosathorian, CC 2.0
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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.

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