Why Flirting at Work May Be a Good Idea

They say a little flirting never hurt anyone. A new study suggests it may even help a woman when it comes to getting ahead at work. Research from University of California Berkley business professor Laura Kray found that flirtation by women signals attractive qualities such as confidence, which is considered essential to successful negotiators.

"Women are uniquely confronted with a trade-off in terms of being perceived as strong versus warm," Kray said. "Using feminine charm in negotiation is a technique that combines both."

To determine whether women who flirt were more effective in negotiating than men who flirt, researchers asked participants to evaluate how much they use social charm in negotiation, as well as their partner's negotiating effectiveness. The women who said they used more social charm were rated more effective by their partners, while men who said they used more social charm were not regarded as successful, the researchers found.

In a second experiment, researchers asked subjects to imagine they were selling a car to two female buyers, one who shakes hands when she meets the seller, smiles, and says, "It's a pleasure to meet you," and another who greets the seller by smiling warmly, looking the seller up and down, touching the seller's arm, and saying, "You're even more charming than over email," followed by a playful wink.

The research found that male sellers were willing to give the more flirtatious buyer more than $100 off the selling price, but they were less willing to negotiate with the more serious one.

Female sellers were not swayed by either of the two women buyers.

Kray maintains flirting is not unprofessional if it remains playful and friendly.

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

The study, "Feminine Charm: An Experimental Analysis of its Costs and Benefits in Negotiations," was recently published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. It was co-authored by Connson C. Locke of the London School of Economics and Alex B. Van Zant, a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

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