Flirting helps get better negotiating results – apparently

So, after a huge research project, psychologists have discovered that women who “flirt” as part of their negotiation strategy get better results than those who don’t. Well, who would have thought it?!

But this wasn’t something dreamt up by Cosmopolitan or the Daily Mail – this was serious academic research carried out by University of California Berkeley and the London School of Economics. The title is “Feminine Charm: An Experimental Analysis of Its Costs and Benefits in Negotiations” and it has been published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Here’s a flavour of the abstract, showing the academic nature of the work.

Classic Flirting (from "Moonlighting")

“The authors examined feminine charm, an impression management technique available to women that combines friendliness with flirtation. They asked whether feminine charm resolves the impression management dilemma facing women who simultaneously pursue task (i.e., economic) and social goals in negotiations”.

The researchers drew a distinction between flirting and being friendly. Merely being friendly, without any of what the researchers defined as flirting techniques, didn’t work. The researchers talk about “friendliness” signalling a concern for others whereas being flirtatious is “signalling a concern for self”. Their hypothesis is that friendliness increases likability, but also might indicate a weaker negotiating stance, if you are seen as less competitive and self-interested.

However, flirtation signals more concern for self, which could decrease likability but might increase perceived negotiating strength. But this only works, according to the research, when the “victim” is male  - and the deals were worse if the flirting was perceived as merely being friendly.

Here’s how the researchers told female participants to turn on the charm.

“In the feminine charm condition, females were advised to be animated in their body movements, make frequent eye contact with their partner, smile, and laugh. They were further advised to be playful and to compliment their partner in as sincere a fashion as possible”.

So to negotiate successfully, women should use “feminine charm”, including both friendly behaviour and flirtation – you’re trying to be viewed as likeable but also motivated by self-interest. (This piece in the Sun is good fun!)

But... joking aside, a couple of things worry me conceptually here. Firstly, I’m not totally clear how flirtatious behaviour indicates “self-interest”.  It almost seems like the opposite – doesn’t it indicate an interest in the other party? Maybe that is why people respond positively in the negotiation? Read the Sun “experiment”. Was that not about a pretty girl taking an interest in the men with whom she was  negotiating? That seemed to be what they responded to.

And clearly, there were other ways to demonstrate self-interest in a negotiating situation if that is the goal. Showing you have a strong BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement), that you’ve researched the market or issue over which you’re negotiating, expressing yourself confidently... they would all seem to be good ways to show self-interest without fluttering your eyelashes. Having said that, I have found in real business situations that women who get the flirtatiousness just right can be very effective negotiators. But there’s another danger there – overdo it, and it can be counter-productive!

Another point to note is that the experimental situation used in this study was buying a car – a one-off situation and not a typical business negotiation perhaps. Having said that, this is an interesting piece of research and one I’m sure will get many people talking. And Forbes magazine extrapolates further into workplace behaviour generally;

“Women who use feminine charm effectively with co-workers, bosses, and employees will convey the message that they are friendly but not overly accommodating”.

But in our part 2 to follow, we’ll have a dramatic revelation about flirting that may shock many readers of a more nervous disposition...

Voices (3)

  1. Life:

    A new CIPS module would ruin it for everyone.

    1. RJ:

      I can just imagine the modules in “Beginners”, “Intermediate” and “Advanced” Flirtation Techniques being led by some besuited middle-aged manager with “extensive experience in the automotive industry” – Antony from Switzerland perhaps?

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