The use of swear words helps in more open communication

Let's go conquer the market, or "Let's kick some a..."

In some situations, the use of swear words can be perceived as a way to express passion, authenticity, and build connections among people...

  • Telecommunications May 2023
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Have you ever tried to translate Serbian swear words to foreigners? I have. And I must admit that despite all the desire to understand our culture and way of communication, foreigners often think that we could be more regular. Even though foreigners increasingly use profanity in their business slang and communication, our language's richness and inexhaustible creativity in contact are not easily explained. How do you explain that alongside hugging, three kisses, and a warm greeting, there's a sentence that would make the mothers of two friends or business partners spend the day blushing? The dynamic business environment we live in is becoming more global and less local, more digital and less analogue, with millennials and Generation Z taking the lead, and it is now formal. It's becoming more open and less formal, and swearing is inevitable in the business culture. I couldn't imagine swearing in front of my father, but today, it's normal for my son to start a sentence with, "Dad, do you think..."

In Serbian culture, using profanity or strong language in everyday conversation represents a significant part of our culture. While it may seem surprising or even inappropriate, swearing is often seen as an integral part of informal communication in Serbia. This unique cultural phenomenon has extended to various aspects of life, including business communication.

In Serbian society, swearing is sometimes considered a form of expression that adds emphasis, emotional intensity, and authenticity to conversations. It's seen as a way to convey intense emotions and frustrations or establish closeness among people. In informal situations, such as casual gatherings or friendly exchanges, profanity is regarded as a means of building connections and creating a sense of shared understanding.

Interestingly, the culture of accepting swearing has reached the business environment. While it may seem contradictory to traditional notions of professionalism, some Serbian professionals, including myself, believe that occasional or, in my case, frequent swearing can establish a connection, break down formal barriers, and encourage open communication within teams. In this context, swearing demonstrates passion, determination, and a realistic approach to business challenges. It can create a more relaxed work environment, facilitate the expression of emotions, and foster more excellent teamwork among team members.

The use of profanity also has a strong presence in culture: literature, film, music, and theater. In these art forms, swearing is often used to highlight emotional depth and authenticity or to convey a powerful message. This can add value to the artistic work by provoking emotions, stimulating thought, or leaving a solid impression on the audience. So, why should it be any different in business? After all, in today's business world, where millennials and Generation Z are becoming dominant, using a less formal way of communication can significantly contribute to team-building and bridge the generation gap. Moreover, today's most successful companies are authentic works of art. Apple, Tesla, and Google didn't emerge from formal industrial and business standards; they changed the way of thinking and had the passion to change the world with tremendous energy. I doubt the leaders of these companies used sentences like, "Please, let's approach the market together professionally and respect the rules of business conduct, positioning our innovative product..." The penalty would go more like, "Let's f*ck... kick some a**," but you get the idea; I don't need to finish the sentence.

The business world is known for its dynamics, where communication style can significantly impact teamwork, morale, and productivity. It is often assumed that communication should be shaped by professionalism and formality. However, there is a specific unconventional approach by some leaders that has gained importance in recent years – the use of profanity in business communication. Contrary to traditional thinking, this method can be considered an effective management style when used correctly, with discretion and in the proper context.

At first glance, using profanity in a business context may seem shocking or unprofessional. However, when used intentionally, swearing can emphasize the importance of a message or show passion for a topic. In situations where the stakes are high, the use of stronger language can have the desired effect – raising awareness of the seriousness of the problem. Managers who employ this tactic can effectively motivate their teams to take urgent action.

Swearing can contribute to the authenticity of communication. The business world is often filled with jargon and formalities that can be cold and impersonal. When leaders use profanity, they often build a more open and authentic leadership style. John Legere, the former CEO of T-Mobile, is known for using profanity on social media and in interviews, which helped him build an image as an authentic leader.

Swearing and strong language are becoming increasingly prevalent in business, but their use depends on context, company culture, and individual leadership style. Here are a few examples of how swearing can enter business slang:

"F*ck the status quo": This phrase can emphasize the need for organisational innovation and change. It's a call to abandon established working methods and embrace new ideas.

"Get your sht together": This phrase is used as a call to get organized, focus, and improve productivity. It can motivate a team to better concentrate on their tasks.

"Cut the bullsh*t": This phrase can be used as a demand for honesty, transparency, and avoiding unnecessary or deceptive information.

"I don't give a f*cks": This expression can be used to show that a person doesn't care about others' opinions in a specific context. It can be a way to highlight independence or determination.

By using profanity, leaders show they are willing to "get down" to the level of everyday language and communicate in a way people talk. It can also build trust because it portrays the leader as an accessible person who doesn't use language barriers to distance themselves from the team.

Although it is often used in everyday speech, a certain degree of caution is necessary in business communication. Context and audience are crucial. What may seem like colourful language in one situation may be considered inappropriate in another. It must be emphasized that swearing should not cross into rudeness or abuse. Like everything in business, this style of communication requires balance. Swearing must be used moderately, with proper timing, and in the right context. The goal is not to offend or demoralize but to show passion, motivate, or express authenticity. When used correctly, swearing can become a powerful tool for managers. It can be a way to convey honesty, enhance team spirit, and improve productivity. Swearing is not always a sign of rudeness or incompetence; it often indicates a leader who is deeply committed to their work and team.

Understandably, this approach to management can be controversial, but it also demonstrates the need for a paradigm shift in communication. Business is no longer strictly formal; there is increasing recognition of the need for authenticity and openness.

Swearing can be extremely useful for expressing frustrations or releasing stress, which are often present in the business environment. As such, it can be a cathartic way for managers to confront challenges and work pressures. Sometimes, it's much better to "treat" frustration with swearing than to carry stress that could lead to a "burnout" effect.

Moreover, the way language is used can have a profound impact on workplace culture. A manager willing to use strong language can create an open, authentic environment that shows passion for the job. When used correctly, swearing can become a powerful tool in the hands of a leader. It can be a way to demonstrate honesty, enhance team spirit, and improve productivity. Swearing in business communication is controversial, but it can be effective when used with understanding and discretion. This unconventional management tactic can bring numerous advantages in a world that is increasingly focused on authenticity and openness.

As with everything, the key is balance and understanding. When used correctly, management that uses profanity can significantly contribute to shaping an authentic work culture, motivating, and showing passion for the job. Ultimately, being a leader means being authentic, and authenticity often requires the courage to express what one truly thinks – even if it sometimes involves using profanity.

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