"Eva, just admit it," a guy friend insisted recently. 'You're a flirt."
"What exactly do I do that makes you think that?"
He pondered for a moment, before sheepishly answering, "You smile... and make eye contact.
"Okay," I replied. "So you're saying when I talk to people, I should... scowl and stare at the floor?"
At the time, I thought he was just being a hypersensitive, "friend zoned" punk. But over time, I realized: I've previously written about how sometimes, people learn negative social behaviors through positive reinforcement. For example, as I wrote in Saying "Before Others Can Love You, You Need to Learn to Love Yourself" Is COMPLETELY WRONG:
You need to learn to say goodnight, even if you're super lonely and it hurts to go home.
If you can learn negative social behaviors, such as ignoring people when they say goodnight or talking about your illness all the time (because when you talk about that, people feel like they have to listen -- even when they aren't having a good time)... you can learn positive ones, too, right?
And, yes. I just called flirting a positive behavior. You know why?
Because "flirting" really just means "showing warmth and interest in another person." It means practicing certain, specific behaviors that instantly make you more charismatic.
After all, as Olivia Fox Cabane wrote in The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, there are three types of behavior that increase your charisma:
1. Behaviors of presence, which are related to mindfulness, are the core of charisma. By being mindful and present while you're with someone, you make them feel special, respected and important. Which a) makes them like being around you, and b) makes them want to reciprocate.
When you flirt with someone, you are typically showing interest in them -- listening closely to what they're saying and responding thoughtfully, and not with some canned response you read in a pickup artist book. You're engaging deeply with them, and not thinking about a single other person in the room.
(Want to up your "behaviors of presence" game? Check out #4 in 5 Things All Socially Awkward People NEED to Know.)
2. Behaviors of warmth, which display how much someone likes you -- and how much you seem to like them. This is important, because liking induces liking. We like people who are like us, and we like people who like us. It's Psych 101.
Many behaviors of warmth happen automatically when you're present -- for example, great eye contact and active listening. But warmth is very difficult to fake. It only takes people 17 milliseconds to register your facial expressions, and it's pretty much impossible for you to control each and every expression you make.
But when you're flirting, you don't need to fake warmth. You're flirting because you feel an interest in or attraction to this person. You like them, and you want them to know it. So you may begin using small displays of positive politeness, or politeness that is aimed at removing boundaries and inducing closeness -- for example, joking, exaggerating your interest in the speaker's interests, or making offers and promises.
(Not to be mistaken for negative politeness, which seeks to establish boundaries and respect -- for example, saying thank you.)
3. Behaviors of power. Of course, power comes in many forms: money, social status, physical strength, knowledge, success, etc. But behaviors of power aren't about actual power -- they're about body language and confidence.
As is flirting.
I mean, just think of all the confidence it takes to strike up a conversation with someone you don't know -- especially someone you find attractive!
Think about how, when you're flirting, you may gently touch the other person -- this is also a display of power. As I wrote in 3 Steps to the Perfect, Graceful Exit:
Human touch can have a warm, bonding effect. Done correctly, it is a form of positive politeness, or politeness that shows closeness and liking. If you touch someone too long or too intimately (e.g., putting your arm around someone you barely know), you could make the person uncomfortable, and it will make them like you less.
And, of course, the body language of flirting. When flirting, you aren't typically scrunched into a corner, arms crossed, closed off, and taking up as little space as possible. Instead, you strike an expansive pose -- perhaps your hands are on your hips. Perhaps your stance is wide. Perhaps, in an effort to get a little knee-on-knee action going, you're sitting with your legs sprawled out. Maybe instead of keeping your feet under you, you're reaching them all the way across the table.
(Though, of course, it's worth noting that unwanted touch is disgusting. If you haven't, check out Women, Instantly Make Your WHOLE Life Better By Learning This ONE Phrase -- and if someone you don't want touching you touches you, use it.)
There is a fourth behavior that Cabane doesn't cover, that I think is a wonderful way to connect with others while having a blast together:
4. Behaviors of silliness. As I wrote in Playfulness Isn't a Trait, It's a Skill -- And If You're a Millennial, You Probably Never Learned It, I did a whole master's thesis on adult playfulness and leisure skill development. And one thing I learned is that silliness and a sense of humor are highly associated with playful people. (Which, I know, seems obvious. But in social science, you can't just say, "Oh, this is obvious." You have to prove it.)
I am definitely very silly. So much that, maybe, sometimes it's too much...
Nah, I take it back. There's no such thing as too much. (As long as you're socially aware enough to know if you're making other people uncomfortable.)
But I'm pretty silly. It makes everything I do -- from traveling to working to dating to living my everyday life -- infinitely more fun.
No one goes out because they want to be serious or sad or argue or feel bad. No one goes out because they want to have another boring, interchangeable night. They go out because they want to be excited -- to have fun! To laugh. And when you're a part of that for someone, it will make them like you more. It will make them like being around you. It might even make them see you as more confident or powerful, since there's a correlation between making people laugh and seeming powerful.
Besides, silliness can also be a behavior of warmth (it shows someone you like them enough to let your guard down in front of them) and power (you feel confident enough not to care what others think of you), so it reinforces other aspects of your overall charisma.
Many people are only comfortable being silly while flirting -- but why not be a bit sillier all the time? After all, one of the best life hacks of all time is to live your whole life like you're traveling. Part of that is a willingness to be silly -- to use wild gesticulations for simple communication. To strike up a conversation with anyone you can.
Having this attitude in the rest of your life can be wildly fun, and even advantageous. (See also: Humor is a Serious Business, by Joel Stein. It's about Stanford Graduate School of Business research on the importance of humor at work.)
Asking a stranger who's coming out of the water to borrow his board so you can take a goofy photo... can lead to exciting new friendships.
In other words, basically everything you do while flirting is something that will make you a more charismatic, fun-to-be-around person. Which is probably why the occasional man accuses me of being a "tease" or a "flirt" -- I act the way I do because of a lifetime of positive reinforcement, in which:
1. I display behaviors of warmth, presence, silliness, and power, which make people like me more.
2. I unconsciously learn that these behaviors produce a better outcome for me -- when I smile or act a certain way, I make more friends; people spend more time talking to me; I get more invitations to events; or whatever.
3. I do more of those behaviors; the cycle continues.
Upon this realization, I naturally wondered, "But... can I 'flirt' with girls?"
I'm definitely very straight. And I'm definitely one of those girls with way more guy friends than girl friends -- sometimes to the point that I think I must be doing something wrong that makes girls not like me. Which could very well be the case -- when you approach an interaction expecting the other person won't like you, you act weird. It makes them not like you.
So... what if, instead of worrying they won't like me or whatever, I treated them the same way I would treat a guy?
I tried it -- and this is definitely anecdotal -- but it totally worked. Approaching it a little more like "flirting" (showing genuine interest, giving compliments, and being goofy and silly with them) and a little less like "seriousness" and "talking" made for a more fun and memorable interaction.
Because people like flirting for a reason.
2/12/2018 06:57:01 am
This blog is stout with insight and References!, yet leaps out like a sprite enchanting my heart and easing my worries. I read this one on flirting cause I'm a city slicker transplant in a rural southern town who's still baffled by her very gregarious hillbilly boyfriend. Thank you seriously, like a hypersensitive friend-zoner does, for sharing your research laced with your life.
8/21/2022 11:24:21 am
Upon reading your article! I will approach anyone with these tactics. I connect with some of the tips you gave. As I want to learn to flirt with women more than I do men. I find it more challenging and appealing. I enjoyed the line "'what if, instead of worrying they won't like me or whatever, I treated them the same way I would treat a guy?"
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Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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