Harness the power of flirtation

Cynthia Sharp doesn’t hesitate to turn on the charm when dealing with customers. She is warm, bubbly and animated, laughs a lot and likes to hug people, men included. Some might call that flirting. She calls it selling.

‘‘I’m very personable,’’ says the TV network account executive.

‘‘When it’s a man, he interprets it as being flirtatious. When it’s a woman, very friendly; when it’s an older person, very nice; when it’s children, nicer than their parents.’’

The approach has helped make her an effective saleswoman for the 25 years she has been in sales.

Women have long known the power of feminine charm. But now they’ve got proof.

According to a new study, women who flirt get a 20 per cent better deal on average than women who are merely friendly. In fact, being friendly and straightforward in negotiations with men comes across as weakness.

The friendly woman ‘‘was perceived as a pushover, only concerned about accommodating other people’’, says study leader Laura Kray from the University of California, Berkeley. Flirting was seen by men as ‘‘an act of strength, being in the driver’s seat, being active and conveying more concern for her own interests.’’

The study, conducted with the London School of Economics, used both surveys and live hypothetical negotiations to assess the effectiveness of feminine charm. Flirtation was described as combining warmth and friendliness with playfulness, animated movements, flattery, sexiness and making the negotiating partner feel good.

One example was a flirty car buyer, Sue, who shakes hands, smiles warmly, looks her seller up and down, leans forward, touches him briefly on the arm, compliments him and winks playfully. She got a price about 20 per cent lower on the hypothetical car than her friendly counterpart who smiled, shook hands and got down to business.

Sharp, 48, says she is just being herself and it works along with other rapport-building techniques.

‘‘You look around the office. If there’s a fish on the wall, you know he likes fishing. If there’s a family picture on the desk, you know he cares about family,’’ she says. ‘‘You make it about him.

‘‘If you’re there to sell them something, you have to find out what they need that you have. If you don’t engage in conversation, you haven’t done anything. I don’t want a one-time sale. I want a business relationship.’’

Kray noted that in the study, the flirty-friendly technique aided women dealing with men, but had little effect when women dealt with other women. The study will be published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The researchers examined the combination of being flirty and friendly as a technique available to women who find themselves at a disadvantage in dealing with men in the workplace. Traits associated with effective leadership – being rational, assertive and competitive – are typically masculine.

Women who use them come across as demanding and less likeable, according to plenty of research. On the other hand, failure to use them leaves a woman vulnerable to being considered less competent than her male peers. AAP

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