The Office Flirt

Office politics are more complicated than ever: Male interviewers who believe female job applicants are attracted to them may subtly elicit flirtatious behavior from the women—unbeknownst to the women and regardless of whether they are even attracted to the men.

Robert Ridge, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, gave 60 male students false information about female job applicants, with whom the male students then conducted phone interviews. Half of the falsified questionnaires suggested the woman was attracted to her interviewer.

Men interviewing women who indicated no interest in them reported no flirtation whatsoever, while men who believed their candidate was attracted to them perceived the woman as flirtatious. Women, on the other hand, did not sense the overtures, nor did they regard their own behavior as flirtatious.

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Independent evaluators agreed that the men were not flirting but rated the women flirtatious when men believed they were interested.

"I was surprised that there was flirtatiousness in the women, but we were unable to detect differences in the men's behavior," Ridge says. "It might suggest that men become very skilled at behavioral confirmation."

"Men may believe that their subtle, flirtatious overtures are harmless," Ridge states in the study, published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology. "However, this may initiate an escalation of inappropriate advances."

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