Saturday, July 31, 2010
Guest Post: Toeing the Line Between Friendly and Flirtatious
During a recent diversity-themed luncheon and discussion at my company, we began to touch on the issue of being hit on at work. My coworker mentioned that she often faces unwanted or inappropriate comments from male colleagues and clients, and that she was unsure of how to respond to them. The advice she received from my colleagues was nearly unanimous: they advised my coworker to take particular care in everything from choosing her wardrobe to altering handshake techniques in an effort to avoid giving off the wrong impression.
My subsequent Google-ing of the issue turned up this recent Corporette post, dealing with the issue of being hit on in a professional setting. Interestingly, the author of the Corporette post concludes in part by suggesting that women who want to avoid sending out inadvertent “I’m flirting” signals be particularly mindful of their body language when associating with others in a professional setting. Thus, both my coworkers and Corporette seemingly agree that it is important for female professionals to be overly cautious about their actions towards the opposite sex.
And in fact, it is certainly realistic that men may pick up unintentional flirting signals from women: Psychological studies have shown that males have more difficulty than females in distinguishing between “friendly behavior” and “sexually interested behavior,” and that men often misinterpret friendly behavior of women as flirtation. Thus, at least in interactions between men and women, signals can often be confused.
However, this recognition this leads to a difficult question: should it be the responsibility of women to be overly mindful of their actions in order to avoid unintentionally sending the wrong signals to men, as my colleagues implied? Or should men instead be held accountable for their unwanted and inappropriate remarks? While professional women fear client loss, job loss, or retaliation from employers if they report (or harshly respond to) unwanted and inappropriate advances, men may not even be aware they have said something that is in fact unwanted unless women do respond. Is there a middle ground here?
Readers, what do you think is an appropriate way to deal with being hit on in a professional setting?