Most of us find flirting tough. Flirt researcher Dr Jeffrey Hall explains why flirting is so tricky – and how you can improve your flirting skills!
There are two reasons why it can be so difficult to tell whether someone is really into you, or if they’re just chatting politely, according to flirting expert Dr Hall.
First, most people are anything but obvious when they flirt. That’s because doing it in a direct way is risky business – if we make our intentions clear and get rejected, well, it’s going to suck. People are also reluctant to come across as too forward, needy or promiscuous, Dr Hall says.
Five flirting styles
The other reason flirting can be difficult to detect is that people do it in very different ways. That’s something Dr Hall learned from his research into flirting styles. In one large study, he asked over 5000 participants how much they agreed or disagreed with statements like, ‘Men should make the first move,’ or ‘I am good at showing my sexual interest.’
When all the results were in, Dr Hall found that there were five flirting styles, or ways people show they’re into someone. Then, in another study, he looked at the words and actions people with each style use to flirt.
Not surprisingly, physical flirters prefer actions over words to show they like someone. ‘They tend to express their attraction more quickly and do so with their physical attractiveness,’ says Dr Hall.
'They’re one of the only flirting styles who think that something like having an engaging, intellectual conversation can be sexy or attractive,’ says Dr Hall. ‘They find the process of getting to know somebody inherently exciting and interesting.’ Once they do, they’re all for a physical connection and tend to like physical flirters as a result.
‘They will flirt to get a free drink, to get a better grade, to just mess with someone, or to build jealousy,’ says Dr Hall. Playful flirters are less likely to care too much about the consequences of their actions and may even tease or belittle people while they’re at it.
‘This would be somebody who would be very careful about their manners and very careful about the way they communicate attraction,’ Dr Hall explains. For these flirters, showing they’re into someone means being respectful. Interestingly, the more a polite flirter likes someone, the more distance they keep from them. ‘It’s really hard to read as flirting because they’re not doing it in a sexual way, or in a playful way,’ he says.
‘Women with this flirting style tend to be very passive and yielding, while men tend to be much more dominant and much more assertive,’ Hall explains. ‘A woman may show that she’s interested by teasing a guy or giving him a hard time or pretending she’s not interested, and a man may come on more forcefully because of that.’
With all these different flirting styles – some of them far from obvious – it’s not surprising that you can end up baffled as you try to read people’s intentions. So are there any sure-fire signs that someone’s into you? Sure-fire might be pushing it, but there are definite clues you can look out for, both in terms of what a person says and what they do.
One of the best clues is perhaps the most obvious one: when they try to figure out your relationship status, maybe by hinting around at it or guessing, says Dr Hall.
Compliments are also a good sign. ‘It’s not just about what you look like, but also your ideas, or what you’re saying. They show a lot of 'Yes' and 'I agree' and 'That’s interesting' kind of behaviours,’ Dr Hall explains.
If someone fancies you, the chances are good they’ll want to learn more about you. So if someone sets you up to keep talking, say by asking questions, it shows they're interested.
This is another giveaway. ‘More important than jokes or anything like that, if you find the two of you are sharing laughter – you’re both laughing at the same things – it’s a pretty good sign of mutual interest,’ Dr Hall says.
Keep an eye on whether someone keeps looking at you from a distance. ‘One of the behaviours that’s important to get it started is mutual gaze,’ says Dr Hall. ‘So people look across the room at each other and if they tend to look longer than a couple of seconds, and they do so more than once, it’s usually an invitation to come and have a conversation.’
Particularly watch out if people do the coy smile or glance: they smile, look away, look back, repeat.
If someone is interested in you, they might literally try to get closer to you, whether that means shuffling their chair up next to yours or moving in while you chat. Also check out whether they keep turning turn their body to face yours, or crossing their legs in your direction.
On your hand, arm, or the small of your back – if someone is touching you, it’s a good sign they’re keen.
Now that you can pick up on others’ clues, how do you give them a few yourself? If you find this a scary idea, you’re not alone. As Dr hall puts it: ‘People feel anxious if they’re going to talk to someone because they’re thinking, 'Oh, God, what if they don’t like me? What if I don’t look good? What if I have bad breath? Maybe I’ll say something stupid and they’re gonna remember that!'
Dr Hall’s advice: try something low-risk.
‘Try just saying 'I would like to see you again, how can I get a hold of you?' I mean, you’re not saying, 'Let’s have sex tonight!' You’re saying, 'Yeah, I think you’re interesting, can we do this again?'
Want to know what kind of flirter you are? Dr. Hall’s flirting style questionnaire is available online here, and more information can be found in his book, The Five Flirting Styles or on his Facebook page.
- Individual Differences in the Communication of Romantic Interest: Development of the Flirting Styles Inventory. Communication Quarterly. (2010) 58(4):365-93.
- The Verbal and Nonverbal Correlates of the Five Flirting Styles. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. (2015) 39(1):41-68.
- Interview with Dr. Jeffrey Hall