How to Flirt Effectively

What you need to know about flirting.

Posted Jun 30, 2020

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Man and woman flirting at the gym
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We know that one of the main functions of flirting is to communicate romantic interest, which therefore motivates us to find out what makes flirting effective and successful. Previous research has identified displaying intelligence, advertising similarity, and emphasising good looks as effective flirting strategies. However, various other flirting strategies which perhaps may be more surprising, have been outlined by researchers Menelaos Apostolou and Christoforos Christoforou from the University of Nicosia.

What makes flirting effective?

In the first part of their study, they asked people to think about how people had successfully flirted with them in the past. From the responses, they arrived at a list which contained 47 distinct flirting traits. In order to estimate the importance of each trait, they counted the number of times each was mentioned. The most commonly cited was humour, which was cited almost twice as many times as intelligence which was second on the list. Other traits cited at the top of the list were good looks and politeness. At the bottom of the list, the least cited traits were seriousness, not moving too fast and having unusual hobbies. 

The researchers then summarised all 47 traits into nine broader categories as follows.

  • Non-verbal behaviour – intense gaze, nice smile, way of approach
  • Good looks – good dressing, charm
  • Intelligence – humour, interesting personality
  • Gentle approach – respect, patience, kindness
  • Strong interest and romance – tenderness, nice compliments, intense interest
  • Courage and determination – direct, persistent
  • Mystery – unusual hobbies, originality
  • Cheerfulness – spontaneous, positive
  • Common characteristics – common interests

A group of different participants were then presented with the following statement.

“Please consider the scenario that someone is flirting with you.  Rate how likely each of the following will make you give in to his/her flirting attempts.” 

They were asked to rate each of the flirting categories between highly unlikely and very likely, which gave a measure of the effectiveness of each type of flirting. The researchers also recorded the gender and age of each of their participants, which enabled them to assess gender differences in the effectiveness of each of the nine categories of flirting.

Which types of flirting are most effective on men and women?

The only flirting strategy which men rated as more effective when used on them compared to women, was emphasising good looks, which is consistent with what evolutionary psychology tells us about what men and women may be looking for in a partner. Typically, men rate good looks as more important compared to women.

However, women rated nonverbal behaviour as more effective on them compared to men. Comprising the nonverbal behaviour strategy were intense gaze, nice smile, way of approach and way of looking at someone. Making good eye contact and smiling are quite obvious. Who would want to interact with a person who didn’t smile and didn’t look at you?

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man and woman smiling
Source: Lakov FilimonovI /Shutterstock

Women also suggested that men who displayed intelligence when flirting with them to be more successful.  Intelligence indicates a man’s ability to protect and acquire wealth and resources, consistent with what evolutionary psychology has found in terms of male attractiveness. One component part of the intelligence flirting category identified by the researchers was humour. Much previous research has linked humour to what has been called creative intelligence, which is presumably why using humour can be an effective flirting strategy.

In addition to the flirting strategies outlined above, some other possibly less well-known or more surprising flirting behaviours which the researchers identified were the following. Having a gentle approach, which is described as being polite, patient, kind and honest, and strong interest and romance, being tender, giving nice compliments and showing an interest to learn things about someone, were rated as more effective flirting techniques on women as compared to men. Furthermore, courage and determination described as being bold, direct, self-confident and persistent, was also rated to be more effective on women compared to men. However, it is worth noting that while boldness and self-confidence are seen as attractive traits in men, persistence and directness may in some contexts be viewed as unwelcome.

Finally, the researchers identified a category they named mystery, as an effective flirting behaviour on women compared to men. Conveying a sense of mystery is characterised by having unusual interests or being original in some way. The effectiveness of conveying mystery in flirting may be explained by the fact that we are often intrigued when a person has unusual interests or hobbies, or any exceptional talents. Examples of this may be the experience of travelling to interesting places or possessing strange and unusual skills, all of which make us curious to discover more about someone.

Does age matter?

When comparing flirting effectiveness in terms of age, the researchers found that those who were older rated gentle approach as being the most effective flirting strategy, followed by strong interest and romance and cheerfulness. In terms of age differences for specific traits, older participants gave a higher rating of flirting effectiveness for good looks. They also gave higher scores for the tenderness, but lower scores for interest to learn new things about me and nice compliments. 

Can we become better at flirting?

Quite clearly, attributes such as intelligence or personality are unlikely to change in the short term. Nevertheless, many of the flirting behaviours identified above can be worked on and modified. For example, we can work on being more confident, on demonstrating a genuine interest in people and on highlighting our original skills and talents. Be mindful, however, that flirting with others is not always welcome, although the good news is that having identified what makes flirting effective does enable us to refine our flirting behaviour in order to improve our chances in the dating world.

References

Apostolou M, & Christoforou, C. (2020) ‘The art of flirting: What are the traits that make it effective?  Personality and Individual Differences.