Flirting at work is a touchy subject, so you might be a little surprised that I’m including the upside of flirting with a coworker as well as the downside. But I try my best to be real on this site. And there are definitely things we get from flirting. That’s why we do it!
But, of course, there are also really good reasons to be careful. Both for the people involved and for your ability to keep working at your current job. Especially in this age of increased awareness.
Pros of flirting with a coworker
First, let me say that we’re adults. And flirting, even in subtle ways, is fairly common. Yes, even with all the recent press and newfound awareness that has a lot of people starting to think differently about such things.
Even a small smile with eye contact, meant to win someone over to your idea or product, can be seen as a flirt. Or maybe a quick touch of the hand as you’re leaning in, while speaking to the person.
All meant innocently many would say. Although perhaps if you are doing it intentionally to get something in return and you are being totally honest with yourself, maybe not so innocent after all?
So why do we flirt?
- Flirting with a coworker, even ever so lightly, can add a bit of fun to an otherwise dull work day. (Yes, I’ve done it. But only when welcomed by the other person — and never done to humiliate or mislead.)
- In some cases, it can help get your ideas heard and / or acted upon. (This is intentional flirting with an end goal in mind. Raises the question of whether this is appropriate and ethical. More on that soon.)
- Other times, it may be a way of trying to build a closer work relationship to get future support from a coworker. (No specific goal as of yet. Just a way some people warm up / grow a relationship.)
- Then again, we may be testing the waters to see if the other person is interested romantically. (This can be especially tricky, and so I’ll cover it in more detail later.)
Flirting as a means to an end. Is it ethical?
Although it wasn’t exactly with a coworker, there was an episode of The Big Bang Theory that touched on this topic. The character Penny was flirting (she assumed innocently) with a doctor as part of her work as a pharmaceutical sales representative.
But he saw her light touch while she was trying to make the sale as a sign that she was interested romantically. Was it so innocent if the other person is getting a very different signal than the one you are meaning to send? And was it ethical to use her sexuality to try to get a sale?
Do you think this kind of flirting is ok?
For some people, flirting is totally understood as a type of game or social norm. But for others, it can be misunderstood, as in the above example. And, worse yet, for some of the ones who take it seriously, it can be hurtful when they find out it was all a game. Not a fun game to them.
In this episode, we are left feeling that maybe it’s not so ok. Both for the doctor’s hurt feelings, and for the way it made Penny feel to realize that she was playing with someone’s feelings.
Still, my guess is that if this were real life, Penny would still use flirting to make the sale. It’s an old habit and can be very effective.
What do you think about this kind of flirting? Is it ok?
So what about flirting with a coworker to start a relationship?
We spend a lot of hours at work. And while in an ideal world perhaps we’d never look for potential partners in the workplace, it’s unreal to think this never happens. Or never should happen.
But, that said, you have to be very careful. So, often light flirting is actually a good way to start exploring the possibility. It’s far better than just jumping in with “Wanna go out with me?” out of thin air.
Still, you have to be careful. Especially nowadays when what might seem like a flirt to you can be received as crossing boundaries. I’ve seen men (it can be a woman too, of course) come on strong with the “flirt” and yet the woman is feeling sexually harassed and perhaps even threatened.
If someone tells you to stop, listen to them!
So it pays to be careful. And to listen / observe carefully to recognize when your “innocent” flirt is NOT welcome. Also good for women to remember that if any of this gets out of hand, the women is often the one who pays both in reputation and by getting fired.
A few more thoughts
When I first graduated college many moons ago, flirting with a coworker was very common. And totally accepted as normal and harmless by most people. Although there were those who crossed the line and made it creepy.
But now more than ever, there may be strong generational differences in how flirting is seen by both the flirter and the flirtee. We are in a very different time. And many young people, especially young women, are not as amused by the casual flirt of yesteryear.
So while I think it would be sad if we go all the way to “never flirt” ever ever ever. I also think you have to tread lightly, and be very aware of the other person and their feelings.
And if it’s only just a means to an end, maybe take a moment to think about what this is also doing to you. As well as what it says about your view of the world and other people. In the end, I’ve found that the positive energy we put out comes back to serve us well in ways we never imagine.
Agree? Disagree? Your opinions very welcome!
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