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Flirting Helps Women Negotiate, UC Study Finds

A study by a UC Berkeley professor and two associates found that women who turn on the feminine charm in negotiations are more successful. Sorry, men, but males who flirt did't see any gains, the researchers found.

In findings that could add new fuel to gender equality debates, a study by a UC Berkeley professor and two co-authors shows that women who flirt in negotiations are more effective than those who don't. The same didn't hold true for men.

Flirting by women was perceived as a sign of confidence, according to the study whose lead author is Haas School of Business Professor Laura Kray, “Feminine Charm: An Experimental Analysis of its Costs and Benefits in Negotiations." 

The kind of flirtation that produced successful results consists not of overt sexual advances but genuine female friendliness, or "feminine charm," without serious intent, the study found.

In one experiment, researchers asked women to report the degree of social charm they used in their negotiations and then asked their partners to rate the women's effectiveness, according to a Haas School news release on the study. Those rated more effective were those who said they used more social charm.

At the same time, men who employed more charm were not rated higher.

A second experiment asked subjects to imagine they were selling a car for $1,200 and then engaging in negotiations with a potential buyer: either "serious Sue" or "playful Sue."

"Next," the Haas School said, "the subjects read one of two scenarios about a potential buyer named Sue. The first group meets Sue, who shakes hands when she meets the seller, smiles, and says, 'It’s a pleasure to meet you,' and then 'What’s your best price?' in a serious tone.

"The second group reads an alternate scenario in which Sue greets the seller by smiling warmly, looking the seller up and down, touching the seller’s arm, and saying, “You’re even more charming than over email,” followed by a playful wink and asking, “What’s your best price?”

Male sellers offered to knock off $100 of the price for "playful Sue" but not for "serious Sue," the study found. Female buyers, however, were unmoved.

“Women are uniquely confronted with a tradeoff in terms of being perceived as strong versus warm," Kray said in a comment quoted by the Haas School. "Using feminine charm in negotiation is a technique that combines both.”

The study appears in the October issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. It is co-authored by Haas Ph.D. alum Connson Locke of the London School of Economics and Alex B. Van Zant, a Haas Ph.D. student.

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