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Mastering the art of flirtation is essential in and out of the office

IRATHER expected Elizabeth Clark, the author of the new manual Flirting for Dummies, to sound ditzy. Or glitzy. Or flirty. Or anything other than the down-to-earth, brisk and businesslike woman that answered the phone. <br /><br />It was my mistake to assume she would be otherwise. I fell into the very trap Clark, a corporate training expert, battles daily. &ldquo;Rather than being viewed as an essential social skill,&rdquo; she writes in her intro to Flirting for Dummies, &ldquo;flirting is viewed as something a bit grubby, sleazy or for airheads, simply because in addition to making you friends and improving your relationships, it also gets you dates.&rdquo;<br /><br />In fact, the date-getting aspect of Flirting for Dummies is rather minor. This is, if you can believe, a business book. Because good flirting is all about communication, charm and all the skills needed for successful networking. The book has the difficult job of explaining the real value of flirting skills at work, while not making the office sound like a pick-up bar. <br /><br />Yet Clark succeeds. This is largely because the book was written in response to real issues faced by professionals. &ldquo;I wrote it based on the businesses I work with on a regular basis &ndash; people in financial services,&rdquo; Clark says. &ldquo;They start young, work incredibly hard and never get the chance to develop social skills. But once they become more senior, they&rsquo;re sent out networking, and they don&rsquo;t know how to be friendly without talking about business. Then they go up in front of the board, and don&rsquo;t get through because they haven&rsquo;t got the social skills.&rdquo;<br /><br />In essence, flirting is just a sexier word for communication skills. &ldquo;If you start talking about communication skills to the corporates, the shutters come down, people get bored. Call it flirting and people listen.&rdquo;<br /><br />If you&rsquo;re still imagining eyelash fluttering, slowly bending to the floor to pick up a &ldquo;dropped&rdquo; pencil, and generally making a fool of yourself at work, think again.<br /><br /><strong>FANTASTIC FIRST IMPRESSION</strong><br />Flirting skills can help you make a good first impression and make people comfortable &ndash; after all, being friendly and keeping them interested in &ldquo;doing business&rdquo; with you is all-important in both. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s about getting to know someone, getting someone to like you, not manipulating. It is vitally important in business &ndash; as in dating &ndash; to make someone like you instantly. Someone makes a negative snap judgement and it takes another 21 meetings to get them to revise their opinion. You&rsquo;ve got to create that fantastic first impression &ndash; financial services are all about networking after all.&rdquo;<br /><br />Non-verbal hellos are crucial, Clark says. &ldquo;Start with eye contact. You have to acknowledge the person before you speak to them. Do an eyebrow flash. They return that. Or a little smile, closed lip. Just to let them know you are friendly. When you are networking you want to let them know you&rsquo;re friendly, and you are far less likely to be rejected if you&rsquo;ve had the non-verbal hello. It&rsquo;s what we&rsquo;re programmed to do &ndash; I&rsquo;m just reminding people.&rdquo; <br /><br />No-no&rsquo;s for networking and flirting include approaching a lady from behind (it freaks them out), and approaching a man from the front (too confrontational). Go in at 45 degrees and you&rsquo;re golden.<br /><br />As for inter-office dynamics, if you&rsquo;re a woman and your boss is a man, hang on every word he says. &ldquo;Men love to be listened to,&rdquo; chirps Clark. Likewise, if your boss is female, pay her lots of compliments &ndash; &ldquo;women like to feel valued, and to be complimented.&rdquo; (Men have to compliment cautiously so as to avoid seeming to harass. ) Clark even goes so far as to suggest physical contact &ndash; a light touch of the arm here, or a handshake there. She says little about the rules for men touching women though, which are invariably more complicated. <br /><br />If you&rsquo;re worried about keeping your job as tough times continue, flirt yourself to safety: &ldquo;Get yourself noticed. Eyebrow flash people when wondering round the building. Smile so you don&rsquo;t look like a miserable git. Say to your boss: &lsquo;It&rsquo;s been great working with you. It&rsquo;s great that things are getting better, it&rsquo;s great to still be here.&rsquo; Above all, be positive, and never put yourself down.&rdquo;<br /><br />Of course, it&rsquo;s important not to get carried away. Jo Perkins, a psychologist at City-based Orbit Consulting, sounds a cautious note. &ldquo;You&rsquo;ve got to be careful in this day and age with flirting &ndash; what one person considers flirting can be harassment. I think flirting can take many forms, and you have to be very careful of touching. You must have respect for the other person&rsquo;s personal position &ndash; are they married or not, for example. Just be sure you gauge what&rsquo;s appropriate before throwing the compliments out there.&rdquo;<br /><br /><strong>HEALTHY FLIRTING</strong><br />Although Clark presents her book as a business manual, it&rsquo;s intended to be useful to anyone looking for a partner too. It is a good idea to separate the two, even if you do transfer the skills. When it comes to flirting in the office with romantic intent, Perkins is wary. &ldquo;Without doubt, flirting can be very positive if it manifests in such a way that it motivates &ndash; if it gets you to work on time, looking good and excited about getting to work. But it can have disastrous consequences if people are responsible for similar projects and start taking their eye off the ball. Healthy flirting can help a team work together, by adding frisson. It can be motivating and healthy. But that&rsquo;s only when people know the boundaries.&rdquo; <br /><br />Indeed: flirting your way to success is a perilous business. In order for it to work, it needs to stay &ndash; ironically &ndash; a purely professional endeavour. <br />Flirting for Dummies by Elizabeth Clark (Wiley, &pound;12.99) is out now.<br /><br /><strong>PROFESSIONAL FLIRTING </strong> HOW TO CUT A DASH<br /><br />&9679; First impressions are everything. To make the best one possible, you need to make a non-verbal hello. This involves mutual acknowledgement before a word is spoken. This can be achieved by eye contact, an eyebrow flash or a little smile, closed lip. <br /><br />&9679; When approaching someone at a networking event, look for the person who has their weight on the back foot; this means they&rsquo;re bored in their group and looking for a way out. You&rsquo;ll be a welcome relief. <br /><br />&9679; Say you&rsquo;re going to do something &ndash; and do it. For example, don&rsquo;t linger too long with any one person, but as you move off, ask for their business card, say &ldquo;I&rsquo;ll call you&rdquo; and do it.<br /><br />&9679; Attract attention by making a change, whether this is a snazzy new haircut or a new and glamorous suit.<br /><br />&9679; Be as positive as possible. Never do yourself down, and be liberal with compliments, as long as they are genuine.