The Magic Word Your Team Should Be Using More

Let’s cut to the chase: the word is “fuck.” Say it out loud with me. Doesn’t it feel good?

Over the past decade, researchers have studied the values of cursing within teams, finding that dropping expletives in an office setting can help boost morale and team spirit, relieve stress and physical pain, and help deliver a more persuasive message — without damaging your credibility. Across the board, studies have shown that teams that lower their inhibitions with each other perform in a more cohesive, intimate, integrated way. From sports teams to corporate teams, the groups that aren’t afraid to curse around each other are more willing to take responsibility for each other, and as a whole, function better.

I learned this firsthand when leading teams and projects at Slalom: over time, I found that my sailor’s mouth actually made people more comfortable with me. My team members were more willing to ask me for help, vocalize their problems, tell me that they needed personal time, and let me sit next to them in their cubicle working together on a task. Breaking down that glossy, faux professional barrier allowed my team to feel more comfortable being candid — and human. Feeling like renegades together can unify a team. You’re your most authentic self when you’re not walking on eggshells and you’re not pretending to be someone you aren’t. And I believe that’s when you’re at your best.

Not to mention the fact that a well-delivered, well-timed f-bomb is a perfect dog whistle, especially in a corporate environment. It can be jarring enough to immediately grab the attention of everyone in the room, an unmissable cue that you need to tune in and pay attention and focus. (Depending on the context, it can also get people excited: I recall a triumphant “holy fuck!” exclaimed in front of a big client that translated into visible excitement. It’s hard not to catch that enthusiasm.)

It’s a great recruitment tool, interview curve ball and cultural litmus test, too. I make a point to say the word “fuck” in job interviews, because I can gather quite a lot of information about a candidate in the seconds that follow. (I love to see how prospective employees deal with surprises, especially the slightly uncomfortable kind.)

For one thing, I don’t want to be in a situation where I have to censor myself around my own team. I don’t want someone who will be offended by my language: if you are offended, you’re probably not a culture fit for my company, whose tagline is “Do Epic Shit.” The right candidates, meanwhile, visibly relax and open up after hearing it. You can almost see them thinking, “these people are cool as fuck.”

It also sets the tone for knowing that there’s going to be tough, honest feedback, and that we’re going to tell it like it is. Tip-toeing around a critique or mincing words isn’t my thing, and my employees know that. Am I an emotionally abusive boss who verbally berates her employees? Of course not! But I do expect the very best work from my team, for our clients.

I guess you could say we just don’t fuck around.

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