Why Do Women Flirt???

Question: Why do women flirt???

Response: Your question was brief.  The three question marks you placed after your question, appear to indicate frustration over the subject! Our focus is on workplace communication issues. However, on the chance that you are perplexed about the behavior of women (or one specific woman) where you work, I’ll share a few thoughts. If you have a specific work situation in mind and want to provide further details, let us know.

Flirting is behaving toward another person in a way that could be interpreted as indicating attraction. Like a bird ruffling its feathers in the direction of a potential mate. However, with people—men or women—flirting comments or behavior may not indicate serious interest at all. Often it is intended only to get a similarly flirtatious response, usually for short-term amusement and sometimes to see if anything more serious develops.

Flirting can be a harmless and fun element in conversations or it can be deceptive and confusing, leading to misunderstandings, embarrassment and unwanted behaviors. The same can be said of the insult-joke, consisting of saying something that sounds like a criticism or insulting remark. It can be meant seriously, but also can be an indicator of friendliness and lighthearted banter.

Flirting and joking can add pleasantness and fun to conversations and few people want to do away with those elements completely, in work or other settings. The people I know who never, ever make flirtatious comments or joking remarks, are nearly always considered by others to be somewhat dull, even though they might be very intelligent. Or, they are so committed to their professional reputation or their religious or personal ethics, that they simply do not allow such behaviors to be part of their lives.

I wouldn’t want to be like that all the time. But, those people will probably never be accused of sexual harassment, inappropriate conversations or workplace bullying. So, there are trade-offs! Former Attorney General Janet Reno once said that she realized early in her college life that joking and teasing could lead to misunderstandings and embarrassment. She said, “I decided right then, that my career and my reputation were worth more to me than a few minutes of foolishness.”

With flirting, as with all other communications, the initial comment is one component. How is it received and translated by the other person is the other component. That transfer point is where the problems occur. Generally, you’ll be better off if you assume that 99% of the flirtatious remarks you hear do not mean anything serious. The person who starts the flirtatious banter is usually the one who sets the tone. If it seems appropriate for the situation and the setting, you can return the comments using the same tone and see what happens. If it seems the other person is taking it further than you’re comfortable with, take a break by interjecting an impersonal question, leaving for a few minutes, talking about something mundane or just toning down your own comments. If it seems you are taking it further than they want, you can use the same techniques.

Flirting is most enjoyable, safe and comfortable when it doesn’t have a sexual component to it. (No remarks about the person’s body, hints about sexual activity, touching in a personal or sexual way.) But, I have noticed that some people never seem to know when to stop, either because they simply do not have the skill of lighthearted banter or because they think every flirtatious comment is meant as a sexual invitation. Always assume there is no invitation involved, because it’s almost certain there isn’t.

Approaching it in that way will allow you to have some very fun conversations that don’t intimidate or threaten anyone and don’t lead to unfulfilled expectations. You can enjoy life and people and not embarrass yourself or them. The good news is that the world is full of couples who have worked through the confusion of coded messages, hints and tentative invitations and found the real person beneath the lighthearted talk.

If your concern is that your girlfriend or wife flirts with other men, consider the totality of the situation. Does she just use “sweet talk” but doesn’t make physical contact and doesn’t follow-up with communication later? She probably is just continuing the flirtatious habits she developed when she first started communicating with boys and men. She doesn’t mean anything by it and even if they take it another way, she isn’t available. If some aspect of it especially concerns you, talk to her about it. Keep in mind though, that it is probably just as unlikely that she will completely stop flirting, as it is that someone who never flirts can be ordered to start doing it.

I hope these thoughts have at least given you something to consider, so that you no longer need to put three question marks after your question. Flirtatious behavior by men or women is not wrong, absurd or unexplainable, it’s just communication—and like all communication it can lead to bad results or good results. (Picture me winking.)

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors