!@#%$%! = Team Bonding?

old-man-cursing.jpg“To err is human, to forgive divine”, therefore is cursing and swearing considered an acceptable human err in a workplace? In my past 12 years as a program manager, cursing and swearing have never being absent in all my projects. But as a project manager, where do you stand on this?

I read that in US, 72% of men and 58% of women swear in public, which was a little surprising to me as in my project teams, the men swearing almost triple that of the women team members. I am sure this is due to the culture mix within the team. Women team members from countries such as India and China are more passive whereas women in US are more vocal. Nothing wrong with either one except that I have to make sure everyone in the team is ok with the swearing and cursing. So far the teams I worked with did not mind, maybe it is because of how and in what context this happened.
I have also thought that swearing and cursing means the same thing. Apparently not. According to Tracy V Wilson, who wrote the article “How Swearing Works“. She defined it as “Swearing involves using profane oaths or invoking the name of a deity to give a statement more power or believability. Cursing takes aim at something specific, wishing for or trying to cause a target’s misfortune.”
We all face frustrations and stress in project execution daily and we face this along with our team members. I strongly believe that sharing and resolving the same frustration together with my team is way of team bonding, to blow off steam and release stress together. I do curse with the team members myself at times, during project meetings or one on one with a team member, because I am as frustrated as they are. As leaders, I emphasize that we need to be fully aware of consequences and sensitivity of such practice to preserve a good/clean work environment for everyone. You know your own team, how they feel about swearing and how far to take it.
On the other hand, according to Professor Yehuda Baruch, a professor of Management at the University of East Anglia, UK, “attempts to prevent workers from swearing could have a negative impact“. I do concur that it’s a sense of team solidarity, to be able to go through and get out of this stress levels together. At times it surprises me to see a passive team member swears together with the others. I take this as another indication that the team has reached a certain level of trust and comfort with each other, in trying to resolve issues.
From my past experiences, “!@#$%! ” is ok as long as the team is ok with it. I feel that once they feel comfortable to use this as a mechanism to relieve stress, this generally brings a team closer and solidarity.

So how do you guys handle swearing and cursing in your teams?

Author: Andrew Chan, PMP


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