Business and the Art of the Flirt

Business and the Art of the Flirt

When I first started my professional career back in the mid 1980’s, I started at a company where there was – how shall I put it – a very active after work social life.

One was expected implicitly to participate, and how far along one expected to progress on the job was in part dictated by these after work social connections.

I don’t mean just the weekend nights – this was like two and three times a week, way late into the wee hours. And not just with us youngsters – senior EVPs, Managers, Department heads – you name it.

I benefited financially from these outings. I met with my first business partner on these frequent after hours campaigns, and advanced on the job faster than those who didn’t (couldn’t or wouldn’t) participate.

It wasn’t the best thing for relationships or marriages. I have yet to work at a similar company in the past 24 years that comes close to the fast and loose rules that blurred the lines between personal and professional life.

That’s not to say that there weren’t other jobs where I worked that there wasn’t the opportunity for hard driving socializing after work with the higher ups in order to advance professionally. Fifteen years ago the CEO of the company I worked for and I played darts three nights a week, to the extent that the owner of the bar sent me a Christmas Card that year (needless to say, that spelled the end of my dart throwing career – though if you go to the Villager Tavern in Nashville you can still see my name on some banners hanging from the ceiling. Good times, good times).

But none of my jobs since have ever come close to the coupling of social and business interests, for good or bad. The funny thing is, that this was when I was working as an actuary, arguably one of the most boring jobs ever conceived of by man. But I digress.

One of the challenges of doing business in the new social networking milieu (at least, as I perceive it) is separating the business from the social. Both agendas may be proffered simultaneously. But one should always be cognizant that the two are not the same thing, regardless of the popular perception that seems to be out there among many of the digerati.

How people interact is an infinitely interesting subject. At every job I have ever worked, people have hooked up, whether married, attached, single, or not. I have the worst radar in the world concerning who is with whom, who has been with whom, or who wants to be with whom. I lack the gene. My wife of 22 years, on the other hand, has about a 95% accuracy on such matters.

That’s not to say that I don’t recognize “the flirt” (for lack of a better term) while on the job, or the use of “the flirt” to advance an agenda – job, position, sale, access – it’s just that usually my focus is elsewhere and my social radar is simply tuned to a different frequency in that regard.

One look at my mug and it is probably obvious why I am so oblivious.

But in my experience looks usually have little to do with who winds up together after hours at work.

A friend of mine I carpooled to work together for six years was having an affair with his immediate supervisor and I was none the wiser (or simply resolutely convinced no way in hell it was happening – he had two kids at home under the age of ten and the supervisor was in no ways a looker). But opportunity and proximity have a way of changing expectations and what we consider to be acceptable targets of opportunity. Or maybe we simply confuse prolonged contact with intimacy.

I guess what has been on my mind is the recognition that for many, there is no distinction between the personal and the professional. Maybe its a power thing. Maybe its a “boundaries” thing. Or maybe its even a level of maturity or attainment of wisdom that is lacking. But I see it as a fundamental danger in how social networks, as they move into the business realm, will need to address in an honest and open fashion.

Because we operate in networks, real or imagined, that lower the boundaries of intimacy that one would ordinarily be wary of in real life, we should be ever mindful that there is no substitute for common sense in our approach for what is considered appropriate business conduct.

As long as there are companies and business socializing afterwards, there will continue to be the opportunity for the ill advised hook up, the too familiar touch, the spoken comment best left unsaid but out there forever. Social Networking hasn’t changed that, only amplified the consequences of similar behavior when non-intentionally extended into our online connections cum real world contacts.

Everybody’s mileage will vary in this regard. The twenty-something will be able to get away with what the forty-something never would (or should). Conversely, persons in positions of power and authority will continue to step in it the same way they have in the past – just with a bigger and longer lasting stage upon which to demonstrate their human frailty.

Our actions – personal, professional, or mixed – should always undertaken in a manner that is intentional, so that we understand what the consequences will be: the job not offered because of those pics on Facebook, the hook up splashed across ValleyWag, the off color Tweet that revealed something we wanted to remain hidden, the resulting busted relationships and broken trusts.

The art of the flirt is alive and well – and has a time and place – in our professional lives.

Just don’t confuse your professional and personal conquests as being one and the same.

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