10 thoughts on swearing in the f#*+!@% C-suite

Healthcare executives dealing with major decisions can get passionate, but is swearing at work appropriate? Before littering the C-suite with verbal bombs, consider the following 10 thoughts.

1. The rate at which executives publicly swear varies depending on economic conditions, according to a Bloomberg analysis of thousands of CEO calls with investors and analysts. Profanity increased during and shortly after the recession, increasing in 2009, peaking in 2010, dipping in 2011 and then spiking again in 2012. Since then, cursing on conference calls has steadily decreased.

2. The most common curses used on those conference calls reviewed by Bloomberg were what one might expect: "the infamous F-bomb, the scatalogical S-word, the blasphemous G.D., and the derogatory A.H."

3. One of the most memorable instances of public profanity related to healthcare may be Vice President Joe Biden's comment to President Barack Obama at the signing ceremony for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The vice president introduced President Obama, then turned to shake his hand. His remark at that moment — "This is a big f——g deal" — was intended to be private, but a microphone at the podium picked up the audio. Vice President Biden's press secretary later tweeted, "And yes Mr. Vice President, you're right..."

4. Speaking of presidents, Slate political correspondent John Dickerson reported that Ronald Reagan may have been the modern president with the cleanest mouth, as he did not even write swears in his diary. (He actually wrote out "h—ll.")

5. Dan McGinn, senior editor of Harvard Business Review, wrote a piece questioning whether good leaders swear. As a reporter, he has encountered some executives who casually cuss when off the record. "While they may be using this language simply out of habit, I've always considered it an attempt to bond — a naughty, I-shouldn't-be-saying-this-but-I-can-trust-you act that sources sometimes use to ingratiate themselves with reporters," he wrote. "I've never known what to make of the phenomenon of the swearing CEO — it's an aspect of leadership I’m still trying to figure out."

6. Some leaders rely on profanity as one way to motivate their teams. Swears are a linguistic crutch to convey strong feelings or incite those strong feelings in someone else. These words command attention and are sometimes used as a tool, depending on timing and intent. For instance, Speaker of the House John Boehner previously told Republicans to get their "asses" in line when debating the debt ceiling. Since he does not have a reputation for such language, choosing to use a colorful word in that instance may have helped him make a point.

7. Whether or not bosses swear, witnessing an employee do so will likely rub them the wrong way. Even though half of workers said they swear in the office, most employers (64 percent) think less of an employee who repeatedly uses curse words, according to a CareerBuilder survey. Most (95 percent) employees curse so in front of co-workers, although 51 percent said they cursed in front of their bosses. Nonetheless, few used an expletive in front of senior leaders (13 percent) or clients (7 percent).

8. Washington, D.C., is the hot spot for swearing in the workplace, followed by Denver, Chicago and Los Angeles, according to the CareerBuilder survey. Further, employees ages 35-44 were most likely to curse while on the job. Younger employees, or those ages 18-24, were least likely to do so.

9. Foul language can be both damning and empowering for women executives. According to CareerBuilder, 47 percent of women swear at work compared to 54 percent of men. Some people may think this is how it should be, like former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who recently complained that women who swear at work are "just trashy." However, females can also use a few choice words to establish power and assert themselves in male-dominated situations, according to a study from the University of East Anglia in the UK.

10. Nonetheless, swearing — in moderation — may not such a bad habit, especially for executives dealing with stressful or frustrating decisions. Swearing can actually help people deal with pain, according to a 2009 study published in NeuroReport. Letting a few colorful words fly helped participants in the study tolerate pain better and decreased perceived pain. However, a follow-up study published in 2011 deduced that cursing too frequently can reduce its positive effects.

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