Do Office Flirts Get Ahead?

When I was on my recent Saltire Fellowship, I was one of 4 women among 16 men. A group of Scots abroad, we lived, worked and socialised together. Our time together was intensive and at times reminiscent of “Big Brother meets The Apprentice”. There was a lot of banter and as an extrovert, I liked the group gatherings and my ‘roommate’ and I hosted many parties.

In that time, I’m sure I could be labelled by some as ‘flirtatious’. For example, as time went on, I would often put my hand on a colleagues arm or shoulder to emphasise a point or to show I was only teasing when making a joke. This probably was flirtatious, but in the broadest sense as I believe charm at work means flirting with both men and fellow women. It’s about showing your genuine interest in others – regardless of their gender. It certainly may not be everyone’s style, and I know when not to be overly friendly, particularly if I suspect it will make the other person uncomfortable. However, I felt vindicated when I saw results of a recent study,“Feminine Charm: An Experimental Analysis of its Costs and Benefits in Negotiations,” was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Turns out, flirtatiousness, female friendliness or turning on the “feminine charm” is a method that works for women when negotiating, according to a new study by Haas School of Business Professor Laura Kray. “Women are uniquely confronted with a trade-off in terms of being perceived as strong versus warm. Using feminine charm in negotiation is a technique that combines both,” says Kray.

Kray says that flirtation that works is not about overt sexual advances but “authentic, engaging behavior without serious intent.” The study found that such flirtation signals qualities such as confidence, which is considered essential in negotiating effectively.

Chris Lawson, an employment expert, adds that women in business who are friendly, charming and strong will be better off in the long run. “There is the use of ‘social charm’ that many women have mastered which has led to an increase in success,” said Lawson, CEO of Eli Daniel Group, a staffing and recruitment firm. Kray says that flirtation that works is not about overt sexual advances but “authentic, engaging behavior without serious intent.” The study found that such flirtation signals qualities such as confidence, which is considered essential in negotiating effectively.

Kray says many senior women executives have admitted to her that they love to flirt and describe themselves as “big flirts.” She says flirting is not unprofessional if it remains playful and friendly.

“The key is to flirt with your own natural personality in mind. Be authentic. Have fun. That will translate into confidence, which is a strong predictor of negotiation performance,” Kray added.

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