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Is it okay to swear at work? Some say it’s unprofessional, while others find it refreshingly informal. See five guidelines that tell you when and how to curse at work.

Do you swear at work? I don’t mean like, “I swear I’ll get this to you by five o’clock.” More like, “This is B.S.” or an occasional sh*t or f-bomb. Americans are using more profanity at work than they did before the pandemic. Maybe all those months of sitting around in our pajamas burned our inner barriers to blasphemy

Ask someone whether they think it’s acceptable to use profanity or crude slang at work, and most authorities say, “No. It is unprofessional.” A study from 2018 found that people who use spicy language are seen as less intelligent, less reliable, and less emotionally mature. Even before this, some companies, like Goldman Sachs, outlawed profanity altogether in company documents. An industry of software providers has sprung up who will, for a modest fee, wag a digital disapproving finger at the person who dares to drop an f-bomb or a sh*t.

Ironically, however, it is the very unprofessionalism of blue language that makes some people embrace it. “Using that language shows people I feel their pain, that I’m passionate about the issues we’re dealing with, ”  says Jenn McCabe, Consulting Partner at Armanino LLP, a regional accounting firm based in California, A recent Wall Street Journal articleechoed the sentiment that the occasional f-bomb may break through the corporate veneer and create camaraderie. McCabe feels that once someone on an email thread uses a swear word, others are less afraid to express themselves plainly.

While older studies labeled swearers as stupid, recent research studies actually indicate that people who use profanity are considered more intelligent and honest. One researcher found that swearing builds esprit de corps, especially under stressful circumstances.  Another study confirms that allowing people to swear at work may enable them to let off steam and be more productive.  Indeed, allowing yourself to curse now and then may even make you happier, writes Arthur C. Brooks, professor at The Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School.

Even people who allow themselves to swear at work put limits on their language. Here are a few of their suggestions:

1. Try not to be the first one to use profanity. 

Unless you feel very comfortable with your readers, avoid being the first one to deploy questionable language. As Glenn Gow, a former CEO who now coaches CEOs, says, “If one of my CEO clients uses profanity, I may also use it. But I would never be the first to use it. I will only use it when the culture of that CEO supports it.”

2. Know your audience. 

Millions of people discipline themselves to refrain from uncouth language. They do not look kindly on the person who burns their ears. If a slight possibility exists that your racy language might offend your reader, keep it clean.

3. Recognize that venting with profanity may be costly.

One of the main reasons people use profanity is because they are upset. Ironically, an angry moment may be just the wrong time to let profanities fly. Indulging in an expletive-laden tirade may damage your authority and diminish morale. (Do you like to be sworn at?) In the long run, you’re better off taking a deep breath and focusing on solutions, writes management expert Geoffrey James

4. Find more effective ways to vent.

If you’re boiling over, put your own name in the “TO” line of an email and blast away. Once you’ve vented, either delete the email or send it to yourself so you can feel relieved that you did not send it to the person you were thinking of when you wrote it. Another alternative is to take yourself for a walk around the block to let your feelings cool before launching into crass language,

5. Be strategic. 

Saving swear words for exceptional moments is what retains their impact. If you swear all the time, you’ll just seem coarse. Save your salvos for moments when they will make a positive impact. Using words like “bullshit” and “f**k it,” may set some people at ease. Swearing can also spur action. Dropping the f-bomb at the right moment is like the karate chop that breaks through barriers.

So, what does this mean to you? Can you let fly in the next email chain at work? If you wish to slice through the facade of formality and if – and only if – you are confident that your language will not offend, then a four-letter word might suit your purpose.

However, if you work in a buttoned-up organization such as a government agency, utility, or financial institution, save your scatology.  Yell in your car or in the shower. At work, keep calm and carry on.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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