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Many people often assume that innocent flirting in the business environment can’t hurt the deal, and maybe could even help.  Imagine the sales representative trying to negotiate a new sale or the party negotiating a deal over real estate.  In fact, in recent surveys, the majority of people have used flirting at one time or another to help achieve results in negotiations.  However, the common belief that innocent flirting doesn’t hurt, may turn out to be wrong.

Recently, a study conducted by Berkeley professors Laura Kray and Connson Locke found that flirting during negotiations can have a detrimental effect.  Kray and Locke had female and male actors play the roles of sellers of a biotech business. Half were told to be straight business and the other half were told to flirt while negotiating.

The study found that:

  • Both male and female “buyers” offered the flirts substantially less, on average, than what they offered the straight business only sellers.
  • The advantage for flirts, especially women, was that they were deemed more “likable.”
  • The study also found that flirting did not affect other person’s perceptions of the flirter’s competence.
  • On the other hand, the flirts were also found to be more manipulative and less authentic.

There are several implications for this research.  First, if your objective is to be liked because you believe that will help you in negotiations, there are better ways to go about it than flirting.  Flirting can seriously backfire and create possible interpersonal catastrophes.

Second, there is fine balance that is necessary for a negotiator to be considered trustworthy.  Indeed, being trusted is critical for successful negotiators.  Studies have shown that a lack of trust can destroy any meaningful negotiations.  Although flirting may either positively or neutrally affect likeability and competence, it detrimentally affects the issue of credibility and thus should be avoided.

Finally, even in occasions where you do not intend to flirt, you should make sure to watch your body language to ensure that the other side does not accidentally interpret your actions as flirting.  After all over 90% of communication is done nonverbally.

Research Source:

 Kray, L and Locke, C, To Flirt or Not to Flirt? Sexual Power at the Bargaining Table,  Negotiation Journal, October 2008, p. 483.

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