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Bad at Flirting? Forget Your Professional Goals

August 3, 2012

Yesterday K wrote a great piece about an article by Roger Dooley that appeared in Forbes Magazine about why women should use flirtatious charm as a tool to be successful in business.

As a follow up, this article written by a woman, Hannah Betts, appeared on the Guardian UK’s website on Monday July 30th and was then picked internationally by August 2nd.  This article stated essentially the same study-proven message as Dooley’s, that flirtatious women in an office are often more successful because the combination of warmth with playfulness and sex appeal is a recipe to get what you want “without asking”.

Betts writes that using flirtation is a way to appear like a man, self-interested, but not overly masculine (because wow that would be threatening).  She does not suggest appearing sexual, because that would be perceived as inappropriate.  She says instead simply be alluring.

The issue that I have, along with the issue K raised about a woman’s self worth, is actually a personal one, and that is well… I am a terrible flirt.

I am lucky to have found a boyfriend given the kind of flirting I am capable of, and I shudder to think my professional life is now hinging on Flirting 101 (a course I must have missed while getting my Bachelors Degree)

“For where flirtation with a selfish end was found to be powerful, simple friendliness was regarded as weak.” 

I guess unfortunately, I tend to approach relationships with professors, employers, and male interviewers with just that: simple friendliness and a professional tone.  That is what I was taught, what I thought everyone expected.

I like to turn up for interviews, meetings, and office hours as if my gender and my superior’s gender do not matter at all.  And then I read things like this, and my tribulations and occasional self-doubt make more sense.

There are girls in college that I thought might as well have been seasoned feministas.  The way they spoke, laughed and seemed to float through conversations made them seem like they were Samantha Jones herself.  When I went to speak to the same people I found myself feeling young–– almost childlike and definitely not competent.  Instead of turning a phrase or poking a small bit of fun at my professor, I always answer questions honestly– I mean what else was I supposed to do?

While our resumes essentially read the same experience and our skills in our respected fields were similarly on par, these girls that would use this mysterious flirtation seemed to me at least five years older, when really they were the same age.

This is where the daily struggle comes in.  I feel like I approach relationships with men so simplistically and honestly (too honestly) that any kind of sexual tension would make me feel highly uncomfortable.  No, you are not my boyfriend I don’t want to make you feel comfortable or flirtatious, I want to work with you.

This “tool” is all the more reason for men to think women hold some kind of manipulative power.  The charm that casts a spell over a professional man may in fact be harmful to the advancement of women in the work place.  It highlights one type of woman, the kind that heat a man’s blood and hurries his heart race.  Instead, of course, of the kind of woman who performs her job excellently with genuine interest and commitment to the company goals.

Yes, a flirtatious woman can obviously do an excellent job as well.  But should all women really change their personalities to fit this model? Definitely not.  There needs to be flexibility, an elimination of not circulated expectations that all professional women use their sexual appeal to get ahead.  When young girls dream of being a professional woman they need to know they can do so without extended eye contact or playful touching.

What gives me hope for gender-neutral professional relations is the many young accomplished women I look up to who approached superior males and male colleagues and peers as though everyone were equal.  Girls who were incredibly accomplished, spoke to professors or employers like equals and seemed to still, miraculously, have a trusted relationship.

Personally I cannot wait for the day where I can where black pants and a blazer everyday to work and just do my job well.  Yes, relationship building is incredibly important in professional life, but I’d like to anticipate a day my hard work, passion, trustworthiness, and genuine conversation, would be valuable and not considered weak simply because I didn’t find the perfect balance of conjured-up sexual tension.

I truly hope for a day when people skills aren’t gendered, when charm truly means being a caring person—listening, asking questions, and responding genuinely.  Because you know while I would rather not use a strategic sexual spice, I can always work on being a good person.
Yay for the Liz Lemons and C.J. Cregg’s of the world.

Peace and Love,


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