OK, we all know it’s not cool to flirt with your colleagues and (of course!) your boss on the job, but what types of behaviors qualify? For starters, let’s talk about “the look.” This one is akin to how the Government describes pornography, i.e. “Hard to classify, but you know when you see it.” The truth is, we’ve seen “the look” a thousand times in the movies. It’s a classic tale: boy and girl get thrown together by circumstances outside their control. At first, they can barely stand one another and then…the look. I don’t have to explain what happens next. The trouble with “the look” is that you may think you’re being fun and outgoing, but it could be interpreted more seriously. So best to avoid it altogether.
Also, it’s a good idea to be hyper-aware of your body language on the job as well. Ladies, for example, have a tendency to do things because we’re nervous – e.g. excessive laughter, hair twirling, crossing and uncrossing legs – that, here again, could be mistaken for flirtatious behavior. Good rule of thumb: If you’re even questioning whether a behavior is appropriate, it’s probably not.
But don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should neuter the office entirely. I love powerful, charismatic men and women in the workforce who know they’re attractive. The right balance of confidence and humility can go a long way in your career. What I don’t love is suggestive behaviors. In other words, it’s fine to own your sexuality. It is not fine to flaunt it. Sounds subtle, but difference is actually as wide as the sky.
So is it ever acceptable to date a coworker? While company policies vary (check yours), it’s obvious why office romances are so commonplace. Where else can you observe – without actually committing to a date – someone’s communication style, habits, leadership ability, and interpersonal skills? Throw in the fact that people are working longer hours than ever and it’s almost too convenient really.
If you’re just looking to have some fun and kiss a couple frogs, definitely stay out of the work pool. However, if you’ve made a legitimate connection with a (SINGLE!) colleague, the best course of action is to be very discrete about your relationship in the beginning – in other words, no lingering coffee pot talk or Facebook updates. Make a pact that if it doesn’t work out, no one will be the wiser and you’ll both keep your private life private. No drama. No hard feelings.
On the other hand, if things turn serious … again, check company policy … and then feel free to share your good news. Most businesses will politely look the other way as long as you don’t let your love life interfere with your productivity.
Hey, it worked for the Obamas, right?
Emily Bennington is author of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job. Emily can be found on Twitter @EmilyBennington or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.