October 12, 2012

Flirting Your Way to the Top? ~ D.A. Wolf

Deep breaths. It may not be what it seems. You know. Catchy headline, rational story.

So I plunge in.

It’s an article in Forbes suggesting that women should flirt as a business strategy.

As I dig in, I register the writer is a man. Will that make whatever follows more or less odd, if he’s genuinely recommending flirtation as a path to success? I’m reading. I’m hyperventilating. Now please pass the Tums and Advil.

We know that women remain at a financial disadvantage in the workforce. So is using whatever we’ve got to make a little gain still the name of the game?

Using charm to your (anything) advantage.


Sure. Women use it. Men use it. We also consider beauty an advantage and it is, to a point. We assess the situation facing us, and tweak our behaviors to get what we’re after. So if the guys are getting it done on the 18th hole, can a woman turn up the heat to do the deal in the boardroom?

According to author and marketer Roger Dooley, in his article in Forbes, research yields a thumbs up to flirtation:

“… what the researchers call feminine charm achieved better results in business negotiations. Flirtatious (vs. merely friendly) behavior also had a positive effect.”

Hmm. I’m reaching for my Tums again. My headache is worsening.

Data, data everywhere; dig in deeper for a scare!

While the article in question cites data from both U.C. Berkeley and the London School of Economics—hey, I’m impressed, aren’t you?—that still doesn’t mean it’s good data for this purpose, or that the conclusions make any sense at all to any woman with experience in the business world.

This, despite a conclusion that:

“using feminine charm produced better outcomes.”

And should you care to know, feminine charm includes animation, playfulness, eye contact, smiling and laughter.

Yes indeed. That sounds a good deal like recommended first date behavior to me! (Was the research sponsored by Match.com?) And I say in all seriousness that I consider male or female charm fair game in any negotiation, because rapport is important in all human interactions. But a conclusion that flirtatious behavior yields superior results in negotiations?

Nothing about that makes sense—unless you’re 22 years old, and even then, it borders on undermining the very competence and power you’re trying to exert.

As it turns out, article comments reveal the research participants were students, a small number at that, and the study design is flawed. One more example of crappy data?

Competence, smarts, preparation and political savvy.

I can think of plenty of skills that lead women to successful job performance—competence, smarts, preparation, political savvy when it comes to the organization and its stakeholders. That’s a very short list; there’s a good deal more.

A recommendation that an adult woman would be better off flirting at the negotiation table?

That’s a whole other kettle of (dead) fish, better left to students at play. I would suggest an alternative: knowledge of your goals, your constraints, your relationships, your competition, your competitive advantage, your adversary’s vulnerabilities—and more—taking their rightful place as you negotiate, manage, or contribute in whatever capacity your role requires.

And none of that precludes charm or warmth if and when it’s appropriate to getting the job done. 

The (enigmatic, problematic) female smile.

So why belabor the point—if I consider this to be a lightweight piece relying on lighter weight data?

The discussion that follows in the comments is informative, as is a reference by Dorothy Dalton on Women and the Smiling Myth—which is more than worthy of your time. Ms. Dalton is clearly aware of the cultural implications around smiling, not to mention Big Business frowning on the overuse of the inappropriate flashing of teeth in the workplace.

Ms. Dalton’s article is fascinating start to finish, pointing out the catch-22 in which women still find ourselves, along with what she refers to as smiling traps. These are our smiling behaviors—a function of the way women are socialized, the way we bond with our children, and a long tradition of being in service-oriented (people pleasing) roles wherein a smile equals a tip, or possibly, hanging on to a job.

Incidentally, Ms. Dalton was much involved in the article’s comments, and I for one am certainly glad.

Bottom line?

I’m not purposely trying to diss the article in question. But it’s misleading, lacking basis, and a misfires in terms its fundamental message.

Go read Dorothy Dalton and others like her, who understand that using our advantages includes the judgment and experience to know what makes sense.

So be prepared. Assert your competence. Expect the game playing that is wielded by a talented negotiator of either sex.

Is a little charm if appropriate? Sure. But leave flirtation to the dating scene where it belongs. And always, always—if you’re going to rely on advice—verify your experts and check your sources.

(This article originally appeared on the author’s blog, Daily Plate of Crazy.)

D. A. Wolf is a freelance writer, marketer, polyglot, art collector, and devotee of exquisite footwear & French lingerie. She admits to two sons (now in college), 38 gray hairs (and holding), 44 pairs of shoes (okay, double that), and an undisclosed number of books which she lovingly guards in defiance of an increasingly virtual world. Having spent 20+ years in international marketing and communications, she then surrendered to her lifelong passion for the written word, with publication credits that include ARTnews, Raw Vision, France Magazine, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and The Huffington Post among others. She reflects on life at her Daily Plate of Crazy, where she writes (obsessively) about women’s issues, relationships, divorce, parenting, popular culture, and anything else that strikes her on a given day as important, entertaining, or of interest. Follow D. A. Wolf as Big Little Wolf on Twitter, @BigLittleWolf and like her Facebook page. 



Editor: Lori Lothian

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