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A Study in Feminine Charm: Can Flirting Get You a Better Deal?

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Even if you’ve never actually done it, it’s likely that at some point you’ve thought about flirting to get your way. Whether angling for a promotion at work or a free drink at the bar, women are often well aware that feminine charm can help us get what we want, and a new study proves its efficacy.

The study, “Feminine Charm: An Experimental Analysis of Its Costs and Benefits in Negotiations,” by Berkeley professor Laura Kray, conducted a series of experiments to determine if “feminine charm” can pay off for women in negotiations.

Most notably, researchers asked both male and female subjects to imagine they were selling a car worth $1,200. They were then asked to read one of two scenarios involving a girl named Sue. When Sue met the first group, she shook hands with the seller, smiled and said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” and then in a serious tone, “What’s your best price?” The second group, however, got an alternate scene: Sue greeted the seller with a warm smile, looked the seller up and down, touched the seller’s arm, and said, “You’re even more charming than over email.” She winked, and then asked, “What your best price?”

Not surprisingly, male sellers were willing to give “playful Sue” more than $100 off the price of the car and weren’t as willing to negotiate with “serious Sue.” Meanwhile, neither version of Sue swayed female sellers.

“Women are uniquely confronted with a tradeoff in terms of being perceived as strong versus warm,” study author Kray says. “Using feminine charm in negotiation is a technique that combines both.”

Still, flirting only works if done right. “If feminine charm is perceived merely as friendliness, then female negotiators run the risk of appearing to lack competitive intent, resulting in economic liabilities,” the study reports. “However, if the right balance is struck between friendliness and flirtatiousness, then female negotiators should avoid their impression management dilemma and derive economic benefits.”

It’s a balance that even Kray admits is delicate. “The key is to flirt with your own natural personality in mind,” she says. “Be authentic. Have fun. That will translate into confidence, which is a strong predictor of negotiation performance.”

What do you think of the results of Kray’s study? Have you ever flirted to get a better deal? Tell us in the comments section.

Image courtesy of Market HQ

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It’s no secret that women have a certain “feminine charm.” Since the beginning of time, men have been captivated, confused, and absolutely in love with it. But when it comes to using this charm to get what you want, women have to be extremely careful, and the responsibility falls on their shoulders to make the right judgment. Every woman understands when they cross the line between being warm and friendly to flirtatious. There is no training required, we simply know the difference. We make the judgment every day, whether deciding on an outfit or interacting with a male colleague. We shouldn't be surprised when an academic study confirms this "female charm" exist. Although research may prove that female charm may help us economically during negotiations, it is ultimately up to every individual to decide how they want to present themselves. We shouldn’t feel pressured to act in a certain way thinking it will produce a better outcome than our natural self. A woman who presents herself well and handles herself appropriately conveys beauty and confidence. Successful women have the x-factor that allows them to be warm and genuine, confident and sexy, without being flirtatious. Real female charm is something that comes naturally, and it’s something that makes us different from men. Confidence is key, and having a natural presence is necessary.

Professor Laura Kray, Et Al’s findings are unfortunate, though not particularly surprising. Given the cited impression management dilemma, it stands to reason that a woman’s ability to be perceived as more likeable (either friendly or flirty) could help her social and/or economic outcomes in negotiations. What is alarming, however, is that by examining feminine charm as a valid solution to women’s dilemma, this study legitimizes the very discriminatory behavior and outcomes it intends to combat. A woman’s inability to perform as well as her more “likeable” peer, in whatever situation, is unfair. It’s hardly reasonable for “serious Sue” and “playful Sue” to achieve different negotiating outcomes. The suggestion that “serious Sue” should just bat her lashes in order to secure better results is inappropriate, and puts the onus of adjusted behavior to rectify a bias on the wrong party. In this study’s closing, it cites Supreme Court case Anne Hopkins v. Price Waterhouse Coopers. The accounting firm, not too unlike this study, recommended that Ms. Hopkins take a “course at charm school.” They were found guilty of sex discrimination. The Supreme Court got it right.

You cannot be serious with this?

I think it a very slippery slope to view flirting as an asset to negotiation and getting what you want. The connotation of the word "flirting" comes with a very distinct intention; one that is both sexual and romantic. Creating a public discussion on the value of flirting is the wrong message to send. However, looking at female charm as a skill set that involves winning others over, being authentic, warm and personable is a relevant and useful conversation to have. Flirting to get what you want in the workplace is never the message to send.

This is along the line of "do better looking people make more money" or "does being morbidly obese put your professional life at risk". Of course it does. Sometimes I wonder how they even got grant approved to conduct research like this one.

Yikes - I would have to say that I would much rather be awarded a promotion for my hard work and dedication, rather than batting my eyelashes one too many times. Getting a free drink at a bar is nothing like getting bumped up a pay grade at work.

Why didn't they do a male equivalent in this study ("Stan")? I find these results pretty useless without a "Stan."

People of both genders use questionable tactics to exert influence or power over people they wish to manipulate. I believe smart women are aware of their charm and understand the need to question the judgement of anyone who would subordinate their own logic, creativity or intuition in favor of a wink and a smile. As a woman in technology, and a friendly one at that, I find it irritating that I have to dispense honey to male superiors along with my medicine. I do it out of necessity at times for strategic purposes but the backlash is inevitably being taken advantage of in some later scenario. The backlash is also the effect on my female colleagues - you are not an island, you affect company culture and other women with your behavior. My style at this point is quick-witted, direct and more matronly than uber-feminine. It works better for me to come across as tough but kind than the CIO's entertainment. This is all more of an art than a science.

According to Kray’s research, a little friendliness – on its own – does not go a long way for women in business. The male perceived difference in women who are “friendly” versus those who employ feminine charm is not only interesting but truly hits home for me. I have personally struggled with trying to “soften” my generally aggressive/masculine management tactics when it comes to taking leadership of a project or team. I have a tendency to be very direct and serious in business related situations which, in general, does not translate well with mixed-sex teams or the male dominated work place. At first, in an effort to “soften up” my professional image I slipped into the “reservist” hole where I withdrew from being “too vocal” in meetings or open forum situations. Unfortunately, that put me into a place where I made it difficult for colleagues to assess my involvement in a project/team atmosphere. My next social experiment, one that I am currently conducting, is practicing social nuancing: learning how to flirt with males without the intention of taking the connection outside of that particular event. This means learning how to sit alone at bars while waiting for friends, going to more networking mixers, and learning how to “playfully” disagree with males when discussing sports, politics, or economics. However, one area of social experimentation that I feel is out of the scope of Kray’s research is the employment of body language reading skills. For those of us (females) who do not naturally posses the flirtatious aspect of feminine charm; books like Joe Navarro’s What Everybody is Saying is crucial to building the skills needed to read social cues and know when to dial-in, up, and down feminine charm. In the end, Kray’s research is a mixed bag for me because although it highlights discrepancies between work-related perceptions of females who are simply friendly and those who are employ feminine charm its scope is limited but wholly worth the consideration in the modern females workplace navigation guide.

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