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“Flirt your way to the top” career advice sparks outrage

Elizabeth Bromstein|

Should you flirt your way to the top? Would you if you could?

Forbes recently ran an article titled “Flirting Your Way to the Corner Office: Are you ignoring one of your greatest career assets? A guide to professional flirtation.

Some readers were upset. To make things worse, it was published in the “Forbes Woman” section.

“I am absolutely floored that this garbage was published by Forbes!” said one commenter, whose sentiments were echoed by a few others.

I agree. This Cosmo-y piece has no place in Forbes.

In the article, Nicole Williams, author of Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success, makes the case for flirting thusly: “Using flirtation is just smart…It’s naive to think it has no place at work.” Yes. It’s also naïve to think that lying, backstabbing and sleeping your way to the top aren’t effective strategies. But that doesn’t mean Forbes should start running step-by-step how to guides. (Though, OK, I’d totally read them).

Or does it? AM I naïve?

Weirdly, the article isn’t really about flirting but offers networking 101 tips in vaguely sexy trappings.

Forbes says Williams describes said “professional flirtation” as an extension of good networking skills, which include maintaining eye contact, smiling, showing interest by asking questions and listening, while adding what they call “a dash of flirtatious nuance” like “giving an authentic compliment or offering a touch on the hand.”

Come on. Really? That’s just being friendly, even if you label it “flirtatious nuance.” You should be doing this with everyone, whether they are of the same or opposite sex. Studies repeatedly show that touch has a powerful impact on impression. When interviewing, it’s probably best not to reach across the desk or table and pat your interviewer on the hand or forearm, but I’m a big fan of the couple hand clasp handshake upon both arrival and departure. Not only do I use it, I’m a sucker for it.

Among the other so-called flirting tips are “Use friendliness and charisma to build rapport with coworkers–men and women–by smiling, joking and showing enthusiasm” and “Maintain eye contact.” You don’t say.

But wait! There’s more! Like, “Show that you are confident in yourself by adding some style and polish to your look,” but “Keep make-up, skirt length and cleavage appropriate, while opting for fitted but conservative looks.” Translated: Wear nice clothes that fit and don’t show too much skin.

Gee, thanks Forbes. This stuff isn’t flirting. Flirting is giggles and knowing looks. Flirting is tossing your hair, cocking your head to one side and dangling a shoe off one toe, touching yourself at the base of the throat and looking at the floor. Oh yes. I know how to flirt. But I don’t think I’d use it at work (If I didn’t own my own company). Because you know what? It’s inappropriate.

As for the genuinely useful stuff, the two absolute best books you will ever read on the subject are the classics: Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and Robert Cialdini’s “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” These timeless tomes offer everything you need to know about genuinely making a good impression and subtly manoeuvring people to your way of thinking.

And the actual flirting? My instinct is to say keep it out of the workplace. Not because I’m against it on principle, but because the potential for your actions to backfire is just too big.

But I’m curious to know how other people feel about this. Would you or did you ever flirt your way into a job or promotion? Is the mere suggestion appalling? Or is it just playing the game?

In other news, related to my recent post ‘Can you be too attractive to hire?’, one woman, Debralee Lorenzana is suing Citibank, alleging she was fired for being “too attractive.” Watch YouTube video of the details of her suit. I think the skin-tight white tank top is indicative of more inappropriate behaviour. I also think she seems irritatingly smug.

Personally, I know many beautiful women who haven’t been fired from their jobs for it. Is it me or is this about more than being pretty?


Category: Career Dilemmas, Life At Work,