Friday, September 17, 2010

Flirting with Success

A recent article on Forbes has caused outrage because it claims that flirting, a known workplace no-no, can be used as a tool for women to get the corner office. The attached commentary on this article points out some really interesting things.

The first is the fact that there's a Forbes Women section. I find this really interesting because I find it hard to believe that our so-called egalitarian society still requires a separate section for women, as if women needed particular career and financial advice. I guess we really need our own special section of the paper to tell us how high the hemlines on our skirts must be. Of course, there are issues that women have in the workplace that aren't necessarily applicable to men, such as how much makeup we can wear before we're considered to be of questionable morality and how to juggle mom duties with work duties.

But even assuming that there are enough issues particular to women to actually fill an entire section or bimonthly publication, how many of these issues are entirely gender-specific? After all, men deal with family obligations as well and balancing a lifestyle is not just a woman's problem. And even if there are issues specifically for women in the workplace, who's to say that men aren't interested? Who's to say that they don't have a stake in this? A man in the workplace may be just as interested in finding out what an appropriate dress code is within their office or daycare services. Workplace issues are as diverse as the people who occupy them and can have an impact on the workers as a whole- so they do affect everyone.

A second thing that boggles my mind is the fact that what this woman suggests is actually not flirting at all. It appears that either she has a very broad interpretation of flirting or that she perceives regular human interaction to have some sort of flirtatious connotation, regardless of the source or purpose.

Flirting is generally defined as the manner in which a human would act in order to attract a potential mate. While there's a fair bit of overlap between what can be considered a simple friendly gesture and a flirtation, a lot of this depends on the context, the person, the situation and the person's motivation. Flirtation is actually more complex than a wink of the eye. A lot of it depends on factors that have little or nothing to do with the act itself. A wink could mean that you're hoping the person will ask you on a date and it could also mean that your contacts have been in too long.

As the article smartly points out, being courteous, dressing well and maintaining eye contact are all common sense moves that we use in the workplace in the interest of being professional. And the author plainly knows what real flirting is all about: dangling the shoe off the toe, for example, a move which can only be described as hot if it's done properly. Compared to that, it appears that the original columnist has learned how to flirt from Mormons.

Clearly the article that should have been featured in Cosmopolitan was written with a spectacular title to attract attention, but falls way short on substance. It's just like the other articles that you see featured on Cosmo, promising you 1600 new sex positions and only featuring 5. It's a classic bait and switch tactic used on women's magazines to make a sexy cover that over-promises and ultimately, under-delivers.

Flirting, the real stuff, is not appropriate in the office. The pitfalls of dating in the workplace are many and they are especially difficult when they fall between management and underlings. Also keep in mind that sexual harassment policies are in place and that they work both ways; even the mere suggestion of inappropriate or unwanted attention in the workplace can be a career-killer. And that's not just useful advice for the ladies.

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