If you have men and women working together in close quarters day in and day out, some flirting is inevitable. Many people consider flirting at work to be harmless, while others openly advocate for flirting to get what you want. But flirting at work is almost never truly harmless. It’s a bad idea, even if both people are single and enjoying the interaction—and I say that as someone who is not necessarily opposed to office romances! Dating coworkers is risky and should be handled carefully (and away from the office), but I’ve seen it turn out well for many couples.
Even in the best of circumstances though, flirting at work is another story. It’s distracting and confusing to the people involved, and often to the people around them as well. Flirting is often misunderstood. It’s a terrible form of communication, as evidenced by the countless books, websites, and articles purporting to help interpret certain flirtatious advances (or lack thereof). And flirting—whether sincere or not—can do real harm to someone’s professional reputation, especially if that “someone” is a woman.
This is true despite a highly publicized study in 2012 that found women can gain an advantage by flirting in certain negotiations. In the context of a single, contained negotiation, it’s possible that flirting could put you at a short-term advantage, but as a long-term strategy, it stinks, both for your reputation and your self-worth.1