WITH a wink here and a light chuckle there, some women are gifted when it comes to turning on the charm in the office. And it might not be such a bad thing after all, if one subscribes to the findings of a recent study which hints that flirting on the job may be one of the best ways to get ahead.
The approach no doubt seems sexist and out of touch with modern society where women are taught to depend on brains rather than beauty to get ahead. However, the research paper published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin noted that turning on the social charm is very advantageous when making business transactions or even when trying to ace a job interview.
The authors looked at 'feminine charm' — "an impression management technique available to women that combines friendliness with flirtation".
They compared women's social and economic consequences after using feminine charm versus a neutral interaction style.
"Across a corelational study and three experiments, the pattern emerged whereby female negotiators were perceived as friendlier — a key gauge of social outcomes for women — when displaying feminine charm than when adopting a neutral style," the study said.
It had hypothesised that feminine charm would create positive impressions of its users, "partially mitigating the social penalties women negotiators often incur".
Lead author of the study was University of California, Berkeley Professor Laura Kray.
"The use of feminine charm resulted in female negotiators being perceived as more effective; having greater understanding of the negotiating partner's interests; and enhanced the positive mood of their interaction partner," the study said.
It noted though that because 'feminine charm' combines friendliness with flirtation, its effects reside in how these two dimensions are balanced.
"When perceived as friendliness, female negotiators negotiated worse deals; when perceived as flirtatiousness, female negotiators received better offers," the study said.
Local psychologist and founder of The JobBank Dr Leahcim Semaj said he is personally not surprised at the findings of the study. That's because he believes men generally do not like to work with women who take offence to everything that is said.
"[This is the woman who] you compliment her and she says you are trying to look her; you tell her that her dress looks nice, she says you have ulterior motives," explained Dr Semaj.
"If she is light-hearted, she will easily accept gender-based compliments; she may even give men the impression that she is interested in them. By and large, women who are like that are easier to deal with in a male-dominated organisation," he said.
The psychologist said that on doing assessments for job placements, he usually encourages gender-sensitive women to lighten up.
"I bring it to their attention that 'you really need to toughen your skin, you really need to ignore men, you really need to verbally diffuse the situation', because if you don't you are going to find offence where there is none, and you are going to find it very hard to get along with men in the organisation," he said.
And although mild banter could be very effective in a job interview, Dr Semaj cautions women not to be overly flirtatious as this could give the impression that they would do anything possible to get ahead.
"Then she will start making a lot of enemies among women and even some men who resent that. But if it is light-hearted and just being "one of the boys", it is fun."
And while a woman can generally flirt to get a discount on her car purchase, successfully negotiate a business transaction, or get a police officer to reconsider giving her a traffic ticket, flirting rarely works for men. In fact, Dr Semaj cautions men from appearing too charming during job interviews, since it could backfire.
"If a [female boss] pays him a compliment or so forth, just take it and leave it alone, but any attempt to charm her or to tell her that she looks nice today would be strongly discouraged," the psychologist said.