Cleopatra, John W. Waterhouse, 1888 (Source: Wikimedia)
Ideas for Leaders #090

The Effect of Feminine Charm in Negotiations

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Key Concept

Can friendliness and flirtation help women in negotiations? Apparently so, according to this Idea, but only when balanced and when these behaviours do not undermine professional intent. By looking at the effects of each of these behaviours individually, as well as in combination, the key seems to lie in the perfect mix of friendliness and flirtation — otherwise known as feminine charm. 

Idea Summary

‘Damned if they do, damned if they don’t’ — this is usually the unfortunate impression/management dilemma faced by female executives. If they adopt male behavioural traits typically associated with strong leadership, they are devalued for appearing too masculine. Yet if they favour a more vulnerable stance, they are dismissed as less competent to their male counterparts. So what is a female executive to do, particularly during negotiations where her effectiveness is crucial? Could the answer lie in behaviours not traditionally associated with management, such as flirting?

Along with two other researchers, Haas School of Business’s Laura Kray undertook a number of experiments to uncover the effects of friendliness and flirtatiousness by women on the outcome of negotiations.

In the first experiment, MBA students completed an online survey assessing their bargaining style, in which they were asked to rate the extent to which they were likely to use personal charm during negotiations. Later, they rated a partner on his/her effectiveness in a mock negotiation. The researchers found that females who rated themselves highly charming tended to achieve better results than less charming women.

In other experiments, participants read hypothetical scenarios where they were a) asked to imagine they were selling a car worth $1,200; and b) paired into mixed-sex negotiating dyad. Each time, the use of feminine charm was manipulated. Though the results indicated that feminine charm produces consistent benefits for female negotiators’ impression management goals, its use can have complicated effects on economic outcomes. Because it combines friendliness with flirtation, its effect seems to depend on how these two dimensions are balanced; when perceived as flirtatiousness, female negotiators received better offers in the experiments conducted, but when perceived as friendliness, worse deals were negotiated.

So clearly, there are both positive and negative consequences to using feminine charm. 

Business Application

Feminine charm combines friendliness with flirtation, so the key to its effectiveness lies in how these two dimensions are balanced. When perceived as flirtatiousness, female negotiators may receive better offers, but when perceived as mere friendliness, they may negotiate worse deals. This may be because flirtation signals qualities such as confidence, which is considered essential to successful. The warmth associated with friendliness, however, signals a lack of intent to pursue competitive goals.

But just as friendliness can hamper economic outcomes, flirtation on its own that, for example, consists of overt advances will also do the same. Rather, it should be combined with genuine friendliness so as to create authentic feminine charm. "The key is to flirt with your own natural personality in mind,” says Kray. “Be authentic. Have fun. That will translate into confidence, which is a strong predictor of negotiation performance… Women are uniquely confronted with a trade-off in terms of being perceived as strong versus warm. Using feminine charm in negotiation is a technique that combines both.”

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Idea conceived

  • 2012

Idea posted

  • February 2013

DOI number



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