Use What You Got to Get What You Want

A new study investigates how flirting at the bargaining table can make or break the deal.

| July 23rd, 2012

There may be no honor in sleeping your way to the top—but a little flirting along the way ain’t so bad. New research from the University of California, Berkeley, and the London School of Economics shows that putting your feminine wiles to work in negotiations can give you a better payoff than playing it straight.

RESEARCH: Blondes Make More Money

“Together, flirtation and friendliness comprise what we call feminine charm,” lead author Laura Kray, Ph.D., a psychologist and professor of leadership at the Haas School of Business, tells YouBeauty. “Our research shows mainly beneficial economic effects of flirtation for women.”

The team created several scenarios in which women engaged in negotiations, either being direct and sticking to the facts, or ramping up the charm. In the first experiment, just the suggestion of flirting was enough to get a gal a better deal on an imaginary used car. Men and women assumed the role of car dealer read a description of a female buyer’s approach to the transaction. In one approach, “Sue,” the buyer, got right down to business. In the other, “Sue” settles in, looks the dealer up and down, touches his (or her) arm and says, “You’re even more charming in person than over email,” then winks and asks, “What’s your best price?”

Not so surprisingly, men quoted a lower price to Sassy Sue than they did to Neutral Sue, by an average of $200. Another shocker: It didn’t work so well on other women.

COLUMN: Steamy Office Romances

The researchers found that Sassy Sue came off as flirtier and more concerned with herself than with the dealer. The reverse was true for Neutral Sue, who was rated as more friendly. The friendlier the rating, the worse the deal. (Read: Friendly equals sucker.)

Even in another experiment in which female negotiators wielding womanly charms fared worse than their more stoic sisters, it was friendliness that seemed to be the problem, not flirtatiousness. Indeed, flirtier girls put guys in good moods and got good deals, as long as they didn’t come off as too nice.

“The friendly component signals a concern for one’s negotiating counterpart, which translates into worse economic deals for women,” Kray explains. “In combination, balancing flirtation and friendliness appears to be the key to getting favorable economic returns for negotiating while maintaining likability.”

QUIZ: How Agreeable Are You?

Therein lies the crux of the quandary for so many women in business situations: Should I be nice and nurturing and risk not being taken seriously, use my sensuality and risk being called a slut, or should I be a hard-ass and get a rep as a bitch? It seems the answer might be that while it’s more complicated for women than men, the answer is not to suppress your womanly ways.

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