Good listeners have distinct advantages in the flirting stakes, but being a good listener is not just about shutting up and letting the other person talk (although this certainly helps). Good listening is essentially about giving good 'feedback', which involves giving both verbal and non-verbal signals to show that you are a) paying attention, and b) interested.
Effective non-verbal feedback signals include nodding, smiling, responsive facial expressions and leaning forwards, accompanied by general positive body language such as 'open' posture and posture/gesture echo. Good verbal feedback signals include the use of expressions such as "mm-hmm", "yeah", "mmm", "ah" to show interest or agreement and to encourage the other person to continue.
Research has shown that these basic feedback signals are highly effective in winning friends and influencing people. They can even result in concrete, tangible rewards: studies have found, for example, that candidates who give this sort of feedback during job interviews are more likely to be successful than those who do not. Even just a few nods can significantly improve your chances, both in interviews and in flirtatious conversation.
Another effective good-listener technique is 'paraphrasing'. To show that you are paying attention and interested, and to encourage your partner to tell you more, it can help if you occasionally sum up what your partner has said, as in ".. .so you were stranded at the station with no money! How did you get home?" This paraphrasing will be particularly helpful if your partner seems a bit shy, insecure or anxious, as it will make him or her feel more confident.
You may have noticed that the question at the end of the 'paraphrasing' example was an 'open' question, rather than a 'closed' question requiring only a yes or no response. If you want to encourage your partner to talk, try to ask more open questions, such as "What kind of food do you like?" than closed questions such as "Do you like Chinese food?"
If you are not sure about the difference, remember that open questions begin with one of the following words: Who, What, When, Where, How, Why. Journalists and personnel managers are taught to ask questions beginning with these words in interviews, to encourage job candidates and sources to give detailed replies, but they are equally effective in informal social conversation - particularly in flirting!
One of the most important aspects of verbal flirting is what psychologists call 'reciprocal disclosure' - the exchange of personal information. In fact, unless partners disclose at least some personal details, the conversation can hardly be called a flirtation.
When you first meet, these details do not have to be particularly intimate: disclosure of almost any personal information, even something as innocent as the fact that one likes warm weather or Italian food, is a move towards intimacy.
If your partner discloses some such detail, you should reciprocate as soon as possible by revealing some similar information about yourself, perhaps 'raising the ante' a little by making your disclosure slightly more personal. If your partner likes you, he or she will probably try to 'match' your disclosure with one of similar value. Reciprocal disclosure of this kind is a much more subtle and less threatening route to intimacy than asking direct personal questions.
The key to successful flirtation is to escalate the level of intimacy gradually, always maintaining a balance between your disclosures and those of your partner. Avoid getting too far ahead by revealing too much, or lagging behind by revealing too little.
Women should be aware that men tend to interpret disclosure of personal information as a sign of sexual availability, and be particularly careful about how much they reveal.
Humour is a powerful flirting tool. It is almost impossible to flirt successfully or enjoyably without it, and yet it can easily backfire if abused or misused.
On the positive side, studies have shown that people who use humour in social encounters are perceived as more likeable, and that both trust and attraction increase when a light-hearted approach is used. Judicious use of humour can reduce anxiety and establish a relaxed mood which helps a relationship to develop more rapidly. A slightly risqué joke can help to escalate the level of intimacy in a flirtatious conversation.
On the negative side, inappropriate use of humour can kill a promising flirtation stone dead in a matter of seconds. Making a risqué joke or comment too early, for example, before a reasonable degree of intimacy has been established, is the verbal equivalent of a bum-pinch. Men are generally more likely to make this kind of fatal mistake than women. Women, however, need to be even more cautious in their use of sexual humour, as men will be inclined to interpret this as a sign of sexual availability.
While it is clearly important to avoid causing offence or giving misleading signals, humour is an essential element of flirtation. Flirting is by definition a light-hearted, playful form of interaction. A flirtatious encounter may eventually lead to a 'serious', long-term relationship, but too much seriousness in the early stages is off-putting. Even in the longer term, a capacity for light-hearted playfulness is important. It is no accident that so many single people seeking partners through the personal ads include 'gsoh' (good sense of humour) in their requirements.
Humour can clearly help to reduce tension and awkwardness in the early stages of a flirtatious encounter. In the section on opening lines, we advised the use of phrases which are universally recognised as 'conversation-starters', such as
comments on the weather. A touch of humour can make these openers even more effective. There is no need for elaborate attempts at wit: a simple twist such as "Lovely day, isn't it?" during a torrential downpour will raise a smile if your target finds you attractive. (If your target does not find you attractive, more elaborate efforts will be no more effective.)
Once some degree of mutual attraction has been established, the use of humour in flirtatious conversations tends to come naturally, as both parties are motivated to keep their target amused and interested. Our natural instinct is to try to make the other person smile. We need constant reassurance that we are liked and appreciated by the object of our attraction, and smiles and laughter provide that reassurance.
One particular form of humour, playful teasing, is particularly common in flirtatious encounters. This is because playful teasing allows partners to increase the 'personal' content of the exchange, while keeping the tone light-hearted and non-serious, thus escalating the level of disclosure and intimacy in a non-threatening manner. Men respond particularly well to this form of humour, as it closely resembles the 'mock-arguments' and good-humoured exchanges of insults which are their normal means of expressing friendship among themselves.
The most common mistakes in flirtatious use of humour involve opposite extremes. Men are more likely to over-use humour or monopolise the joke-telling, and fail to notice that their companion is bored or frustrated. Women sometimes have a tendency to under-use humour - to adopt a serious tone when their companion would be more comfortable with light-hearted banter. There are many exceptions, of course: we've all met heavy-going men and raucous women, but most studies show that women are generally more cautious in their use of humour, while men are more inclined to avoid heart-to-heart seriousness.
If you feel you may sometimes be guilty of either excessive or inadequate use of humour, watch your companion carefully for signs of boredom or embarrassment - such as feet or body turning away from you, forced smiles, reduced eye-contact, reduced verbal attention-signals, fidgeting, defensive arm-crossing, etc. If you are overdoing the humour, these would be your cues to tone it down a bit. If you are being too serious, lighten up!
Your approach to leave-taking after a flirtatious conversation is of critical importance, as it will determine your future relationship with your companion.
Many flirtatious encounters are of naturally short duration - where it is understood that there are no serious intentions, merely an ego-boosting acknowledgement of mutual attraction. These light-hearted 'brief encounters' are part of normal social interaction, and only the pathetic or desperate would imagine that every passing exchange of flirtatious banter is a prelude to matrimony.
Flirting would not, however, be such a universal feature of human interaction if it did not occasionally serve some more long-term purpose - such as sex, reproduction, the survival of the species, etc. While there is no harm in practising our flirting skills just for the fun of it, there will be some occasions when we wish to pursue the relationship, and a cheery, unconcerned "Bye, then" or "Nice meeting you" will not do. This is when parting words and gestures take on greater significance.
Every salesperson knows that there is little point in establishing a great rapport with potential customers, attracting their interest, gaining their trust and so on, if you fail to 'close' - 'closing' being sales-speak for actually making the sale, securing the contract, getting the customer to hand over money or sign on the dotted line. Sales staff are specifically trained in 'closing techniques' to help them achieve this all-important goal.
In the same way, if you are genuinely attracted to your flirting partner, and want to see him or her again, none of the flirting skills in this Guide will be much use unless you can 'close' effectively. In this case, your goal in 'closing' is to secure not a contract or a sale, but the chance to meet again.
At the risk of rejection, this is the moment when you must be explicit about your wishes. Subtle hints and positive body-language will help you to get to this point, and careful observation of your partner's reactions will tell you whether your 'closing' is likely to be successful, but these techniques cannot, by themselves, get you a phone number or a date! You have to ask. And the most effective strategy is simple honesty. You don't have to declare undying love, just ask: "Would you like to meet for a drink sometime next week?" (or some equivalent, the exact words are unimportant, but it must a be a clear request). If making a date on the spot would be awkward or inappropriate, say something like: "Perhaps we could meet again sometime - could I have your phone number?"
Some American 'dating manuals' recommend that you precede this request with a statement such as "I've really enjoyed talking with you and I'd like to see you again". You are welcome to do this if you wish, but it would seem to be already implicit in the request for a date or phone number, and therefore somewhat superfluous.
Dating manuals and articles in glossy women's magazines also constantly insist that it is perfectly acceptable nowadays for women to take the initiative in asking men out. In fact, they never fail to exclaim, men love it when women take the initiative. This is quite true, and if you read the more scientific research on the subject, you will find out why. The studies and experiments show that men perceive women who take the initiative in asking a man out as more sexually available. To put it more bluntly, if a woman asks them out, they think they have a better chance of 'scoring'. Naturally, they are delighted.
If you are female, and wish to avoid giving this impression, there is a simple solution. Instead of asking for his phone number, offer your own. Say something like: "Maybe we could have a drink sometime? - here's my number". This makes it perfectly clear that you are interested, but still requires the man to take the initiative in asking for a date.
You are of course free to dismiss this suggestion as hopelessly old-fashioned, sexist, pandering to double-standards, etc. It is not the place of this Guide to make moral judgements about flirting, merely to provide information on the latest scientific findings. Flirting has been part of human behaviour for thousands of years, and whether we approve or not, the latest findings show that not much has changed. Males have always tended towards an over-optimistic interpretation of female signals, and females have always adjusted their signals to encourage only selected males.
Despite the disapproval of 17th-century Puritans, Victorian moralists and their modern equivalents in both the 'moral majority' and 'political correctness' camps, these basic flirting instincts persist, and the human species survives.
Continue reading here: Flirting from afar
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