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This past weekend, my husband and I visited a local car dealership. Having owned my car since 2001, it’s not hard to understand why I might be in the market for a new whip. Since it’s been so long since I’ve purchased a car and my husband is savvy when it comes to all things automotive, I decided to take him with me so that I wouldn’t get got. While browsing, we drifted apart in different directions from one section of the showroom to the next and it wasn’t long before I noticed he was pounced upon by a female sales rep. She was pretty, dressed somewhat provocatively, and all smiles. I decided to sit back and watch this woman try to work her feminine wiles on my husband in order to sell him the most high-end vehicle they had. And from what I could tell she had his attention.

As a secure woman, I can appreciate having a handsome husband that women gravitate towards. I can also appreciate knowing the difference between when a woman is trying to make a sale vs. trying to get a date. Sensing that I was happily observing them and that the rep was laying it on a little too thick now, my hubby made his way back to me and introduced us. Her entire demeanor changed as she realized that her feminine charm was no longer needed to close the deal. She told us to find her if we needed more help and quickly moved on to her next victim –I mean customer.

Now trust me when I tell you, I’m not mad at her for flirting to get ahead in business. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t benefited from flirting to get what I wanted a time or two. But it was usually a free oil change or extra help at Home Depot – not a corner office or a fat commission. However, if presented with the opportunity to use feminine charm to network or aid in corporate or salary negotiations, I’m not so sure I’d resist. After all, using all the tricks of the trade may be necessary out here in this cut-throat world, and if flirting helps in getting a leg up on your competition then I see nothing wrong with it.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m talking about “flirting” – not sex. Some women (and men) don’t know the difference between platonic flirtation and a sexual advance, which is totally inappropriate in a business setting. It’s one thing to use your charm as a tool to complement your intelligence, work ethic, confidence and expertise. It’s entirely different to be a brainless dingbat who sleeps her way to the top. While some feminists might argue that there is no difference between sexing your way to CEO and flirting to get a meeting, I see them as two opposite ends of the feminist spectrum where there is a boundary that shouldn’t be crossed – mainly a legal one.

For me, the main issue with flirting at work is the potential for a sexual harassment lawsuit. If you’re a supervisor flirting with a subordinate, then don’t even go there. But even if you aren’t in a supervisory position, going overboard with your flirtatious exploits could also welcome unwanted sexual advances from your boss that could have you initiating a lawsuit if sex was not your intent. If everyone in the office says that you came on to your boss, one might say that you were complicit and that the feelings were mutual. You don’t want to flirt to the point where you become the office THOT.

Overtly flirting in the office can also backfire on you if the object of your flirtatious shenanigans is not interested in engaging in such behavior – and may even be offended. Make sure you know your audience and how they’d respond to your charms. For example, I could try to flirt my way to the top at my current position but it wouldn’t work, mainly because all the male head honchos are gay and the female ones are straight, so I’d be barking up the wrong tree in either direction. All it would serve to do is make me look unprofessional, incompetent, and downright silly.

My rule of thumb in any flirting situation, but especially at work, is to be cautious and be your authentic self. There are ways to flirt that are not sexual or romantic in nature – like smiling, laughing at jokes, offering compliments that are not sexually nuanced and maintaining eye contact. All of these things show interest, elicit a warm response and make the object of your attention feel good about themselves while allowing you to come across as inviting while not diminishing your talent or professionalism. In my opinion, flirting is simply a tool used in networking, which is an art form in and of itself. Truly confident men and women can pull this off without alienating coworkers and building professional relationships — and maybe even sell a car. It didn’t work for her, but it might work for you!

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