One of the last scenes from the Werner Herzog biopic about Gertrude Bell, one of the most influential women at a time when and in a part of the world where women had no right to influence anything. To me, Nicole Kidman shows perfectly what “Feminine Charm in action” looks like. Watching the full movie is highly inspiring!

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In 1998 Laurie A. Rudman coined the term “Women’s Impression Management Dilemma“, meaning that women who are defying stereotypes must bear negative consequences: engaging in agentic behaviors required to enhance perceptions of competence  (e.g. self-promotion in a hiring context) often produces social costs. However, failing to engage in agentic behaviors leaves women vulnerable to being percieved as less competent than their male peers. Simply put: if a woman acts too “hard” (i.e. only focussing on facts and figures) she loses because she is not perceived as an “authentic” woman, and if she is too warm and soft she loses because she is perceived as less competent. We also know this dilemma as “Double Bind”. That dilemma and how to get out of it has since been subject to a lot of research.

In this respect I have come across one study that I find quite enlighting:

The study, published in 2012, examined whether applying the exclusively female impression management technique of  “Feminine Charm” (not because it is “female” but because no such negotiation technique has been proven for men) could be used to overcome women’s Double Bind.

Feminine Charm

“Feminine Charm” can be defined as a mixture of behavioral elements that in part create the perception of “friendliness” and in part the perception of “flirtatiousness”. The study shows that the MAGIC LIES IN THE MIXTURE of these two perceptions.

Flirtatiousness Beats Friendliness

If a woman is percieved as mainly “friendly”, thus exuding warmth, she will be percieved as less competitive which is one of the long-living stereotyopes associated with women. That means that too much warmth, too much obvious focus on cooperation is like a proof of women being less competitive and interested in their own gain – which results in them achieving less.

On the other side, when the percieved grade of “flirtatiousness” is higher, the outcome in negotiations is clearly to the womans’ advantage! Why? Because “Flirtatiousness” is associated with “self-interest”, with knowing about ones worth and clear interest in ones own gain. A flirtatious person is thus percieved as being competitive.

Feminine Charm Helps Mixed-Sex Teams and Men but Not the Women

Another interesting finding is that Feminine Charm definitely helps to increase the common gain in case of negotiations with mixed motives. That is, when a man and a woman negotiate to achieve a common goal: applying Feminine Charm facilitates understanding and a good atmosphere and thus leads to a very positive common outcome. BUT: the contributions of the male negotiator have more weight in that outcome than those of the female negotiator.

That means that women can play a crucial, positive role in mixed-sex teams if they put their charm to work but doing so, they do not only enhance the success of the whole team but most of all the success of the inputs of their male counterparts.

Conclusions for Your Own Behavior

The study cleary shows that there is no “Yes” or “No”- answer to whether using Feminine Charm is to ones advantage in negotiations or not. What can be deduced, however, is nonetheless significant: if we define being flirtatious – actually “daring” to be flirtatious – as “consciously guiding the counterparts’ perception of myself with the aim to make him follow my lead“, that could be a GUIDELINE for your own behavior.

  1. Be Competetive = be aware of having self-interest! Ask yourself what gain you want to yield in a negotiation or in any other communicative situation?
  2. Create an atmosphere of understanding! Ask yourself what communiative elements you could apply in order to make your counterpart feel good about himself and about you?
  3. Choose your frame! Know to “dress” your competence combining elements of power and elements of femininity

Note: prevalence of your “competent” side and lacking feminine charm will harm your success.

By the way: “Charisma” means “Gift of Grace”. So do not neglect your grace if you want to be percieved as charismatic.

The full study can be found here: “Feminine Charm: An Experimental Analysis if Its Costs and Benefits in Negotiations”

This post is also available in: German