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Frustrated by a Flirt / Male point of view

Dear Office-Politics,

I am a 26 year old male working in a British bank in India. When a female boss flirts in the presence of male subordinates, would it be considered professional? By flirting I mean twirling hair, biting lips, looking deeply into the man’s eyes, fondling earrings etc. Is this flirting by a female boss considered acceptable and professional?

Frustrated by a Flirt

dr. john burton

Dear Frustrated by a Flirt,

My own image of appropriate behaviour in a British bank would not include what you have described. What I think is not really the issue, however.

The underlying question that arises for me is the impact of this behaviour on you and on others in the workplace. If it creates difficulty in conducting business or carries the risk of leading to difficulty then it may be wise to address it. Since you describe the person involved as your boss, however, you are in a difficult spot. You may not be in a position to raise your concerns with your boss directly without offending her and creating the tension you wish to avoid.

You are working in an environment where cross cultural communication is a real challenge. Traditional Indian understandings of morality and behaviour are intersecting with modern Western expectations and with the culture of British banks. I know too little about the environment that you are working in to feel confident in offering advice about how to proceed, if the matter does need to be addressed.

What I would suggest is that you seek the advice of someone familiar with those cultural realities and ask them for help in devising a strategy that might bring to your boss an awareness of how her behaviour is perceived by others, without offending her. The person I would look for would be an elder who has experience working within a business organization, preferably but not necessarily a bank. I would also want that person to be familiar with the tensions that arise as a traditional culture adjusts to the modern global culture where the understanding of the relations between the sexes is undergoing significant change.

Perhaps there is someone in your extended family, or a teacher you trust from school who could provide some guidance.

I hope that you can find such a person and that they can guide you through this situation.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.


John Burton

Dr. John Burton LL.B. M.B.A. M.Div. Ph.D. is an ethicist, mediator, lawyer and theologian. He teaches Personal and Corporate Social Responsibility in the Faculty of Management at the University of British Columbia in the Okanagan. John has also taught alternative dispute resolution at Queen’s Law School and Ethics at the Schulich School of Business. John holds a very special place on the Office-Politics Advisory Board. John was the very first Office-Politics Adviser and has answered letters since 2002. His contribution made the CTV national news in 2003 for answering ‘difficult and thorny issues’ that are sent in to the site. Some things never change!

  1. 2 Answers to “Frustrated by a Flirt / Male point of view”

  2. Thanks for answering my question. I am an Indian male and my boss is a white female stationed in India, she has 20 people under her which includes 12 males .From my understanding, a woman gives out certain body language signs when she finds a man good-looking etc. out of the 12 men in office she gives of these signs to only 4 of the men, which DOES NOT include ME. I did not put up this question as I am JELEAUS. The reason was she reprimanded me for not showing ENOUGH ENTHUSIASM in team work. So my point is a boss should appear FAIR both by verbal and nonverbal gestures ,and any man who has perused women knows what signs she gives when she finds him attractive. How fair is it for her to only flirt with ONLY SOME men?
    female flirting link – http://syncrat.com/body-language-female-courtship-signals

    By Pun on May 25, 2007

  3. I was at first thinking perhaps this man has some valid concerns. In certain contexts those could be flirtatious, however, all the actions listed could also be unintentional and merely a sign that she lacks confidence.

    However, this comment has me believing that this particular man is over-reading into the situation. Especially when he adds the flirting link.

    I believe most women would be horrified to think small inconsequential actions are being so overly thought out by men. While there are psychological studies of this sort sometimes we just feel more comfortable (Not sexually interested) with some men (and women and situations) than with others. The more likely scenario is that with this man, I think she most likely feels comfortable with herself and how she plans to handle him while less comfortable with these other 4 men. It could be she is interested in the 4 men….. but then again they may just tap into the areas where she lacks confidence and she’s attempting to 1- comfort herself (hair, lips, earrings) and 2- show them she respects what they have to say so hopefully they respect what she has to say in future (staring longer at them). Either way she’s definitely not overtly flirting with them based on that list.

    I’d have to add to his boss’ assessment that he needs to concentrate on work more than what teeniest of signals she may or may not be giving out. That will gain him much more from her than wanting to recieve ‘fair’ treatment…

    However since I just noticed she is stationed in India (which makes me think even more it is a confidence item), if there is an HR person they should perhaps enlighten her on what men there perceive as sexual advances so she and they stay out of unintentional trouble.

    By Concerned on Jun 9, 2007

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