Flirt to get ahead... but lose friends

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Mad Men: For the women working at Sterling Cooper advertising agency, flirting is all in a day's work to get to the top in a male-dominated industry during the 1960s.

London - Flirting at work CAN help women get ahead, a provocative new study has revealed – but colleagues won’t like them for it.

Women who use their feminine charms to get ahead are seen as less authentic and less genuine than women who refuse to flirt.

That distrust built up among colleagues could prove to be damaging in the long run, say researchers.

The research involved students watching videos of corporate negotiators – one of whom was a woman who touched her hair and made flirtatious gestures.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, she was rated as much more likeable than a more po-faced male negotiator – but student volunteers also said she was less trustworthy.

Although feminine charm can help women seem more likeable, they are perceived as less authentic and genuine when they flirt in the workplace.

Professor Laura Kray, of the University of California, Berkeley, said: “We begin by exploring the lay belief that women can use flirtation to their advantage in professional contexts and contrast it with trained negotiators’ negative views on flirtation.

“We discovered both an upside and a downside to flirting at the bargaining table. Although flirtation appears to be positively related to women’s likability, negotiators who flirted were judged to be less authentic than those who refrained from exercising their sexual power.”

Flirting is behaving amorously without serious intent, showing a a superficial or casual interest or liking – suggesting flirtation is not always a blatant sexual advance but can instead be playful, scientists say.

On this basis, researchers believe playful flirting might be advantageous to women negotiators in business if used as a subtle way of increasing attraction and likeability, or softening a tough negotiation stance.

Previous work on gender stereotypes has found that women are thought to be more concerned with the welfare of others, while men are self-oriented, task-focused and concerned with mastery and control.

According to scientists, this view arises from the different roles men and women traditionally own in society – breadwinners and homemakers.

Basing their work around feminine charm, researchers conducted studies to determine whether trained negotiators consider flirting to be an asset in a quest to claim value at the bargaining table.

A total of 79 post-grad business students – 50 men and 29 women – were asked to report their opinion on 10 negotiator characteristics on a scale measuring their effectiveness.

The characteristics included physical attractiveness, how agreeable negotiators were, manipulativeness, honesty, friendliness and how genuine they were.

Results showed that among the 10 items measured, flirting was the least effective negotiator characteristic, with how attractive and playful negotiators were – attributes linked to flirting – also viewed negatively.

In another study, a further 77 students – 51 women and 26 men – watched a video of a negotiator and evaluated the way they worked.

The study included one male and one female negotiator who followed a script, speaking directly into the camera as though addressing a partner directly.

In the standard script, the actors repeatedly rejected buyers’ offers, while the flirtatious script called for the actors to use a playful tone of voice, smile, lean forward and touch their face and hair.

Participants were asked to rate the negotiator on how flirtatious and sexual they were on a scale of one to seven as a manipulation tool to get the best deal.

Results showed a clearly negative consequence of flirting, as the flirtatious actors were perceived to be less genuine and more manipulative than the non-flirting actors.

However, the woman actor was judged to be more flirtatious and participants perceived her to be more likeable than the less flirty male actor.

The Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin study suggests this greater level of likeability was due to the female actor’s higher level of flirting.

The researchers say their results suggest the same behaviours are judged differently when exhibited by men and women, possibly because flirting is attributed to the female stereotype of attentiveness to others and people are sensitive to this behaviour.

Also, women being seen as communal and warm – traits consistent with flirting – could explain why the female actor was more likeable. – Daily Mail

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