Head to head: A touchy subject

Is office flirting normal and healthy, or potentially threatening and innapropriate? Flirting guru Peta Heskell takes on ex-model Judi James

Pro-flirting

"I saw an article saying flirtophobia was killing off office romance and that gave me the idea to run a workshop on flirting. Everyone is sexual but they deny it. Men have to deny it because they have been hounded by PC and women to some extent deny it because a lot of women are constantly fighting in this male-dominated world and feel that by showing their femininity or their sexuality they are going to: a) be taken the wrong way; or, b) be put down as silly women. It's a shame, as there's nothing wrong with showing someone that flirtatious side of us. We are a bit uptight about flirting in this country but you know we can change, we're all human beings. We can de-programme our culture.

The whole point is flirting's got to be fun. If you go out on the pull and think of it as a serious thing and get all hung up on whether people say yes or no, you will come across as desperate. The idea is to just go out and enjoy meeting people and the more you do that, when you do come across that special person, you'll be very relaxed and confident about just going up and chatting to them. When you see someone you should just make a move. People often say, `Oh I saw this bloke and he was really gorgeous,' but they don't look or let him know they fancy him and then before they know it the person has disappeared - and that's one more down, and then they say, `I can't find a man.'

I've said before that I'm on a mission to get everyone to go out and do it. I do it all the time. I know how effective it is and I know it's done a lot for me. It's also healthier for you, it activates your body's natural opiates and releases serotonin in your brain, which is basically your body's happy drugs. These drugs are natural, so flirting is more fun than drugs, it's cheaper, it doesn't harm you, and you're not letting opportunities pass you by."

Peta Heskell runs the Flirtation Workshop, 0181-788 8394

Anti-flirting

"I have known good flirts who have managed to maintain the right level of flirting with everyone they've dealt with and then it's been called charisma. But they are real one-off characters. The good flirts, I've found, flirt with everybody, they flirt with members of their own sex - it's almost a non-sexual act. But if somebody is flirting with you and you find them attractive then obviously the tendency is to go and see if you can turn it into something more serious, then it's up to whether the other person meant it as a courtship ritual or whether it is something they do to everybody and that's where it all begins to go a little bit wrong.

I think the thing with flirting, particularly in a business context, is that we always know what we mean by flirting - but other people don't always receive the same signals. People can get angry or find themselves in situations where they are making a pass and the other person is saying, `I gave them no lead on to that whatsoever.' I've had people come to me and say, `Well it was obvious she was up for it,' and then he or she has said, `No, no, no - I was only flirting, I do that with everybody.'

Most people misread body language - that is the essence of the training I do. The thing to remember is, you might be enjoying yourself - but is the other person? Flirting can slide quickly down the scale from being flattering to being almost threatening. I had somebody once who said, `I knew that you fancied me because you kept pulling your wedding ring on and off your finger,' and in fact all I'd got was ring rash. Good flirts can read body language and vocal signals and not overstep the mark. But if you're not good at doing that then maybe you're better off not doing it at all."

Judi James, former model, and novelist, is author of `Sex at Work: A Survival Guide', published by the Industrial Society, pounds 9.99

Interviews by Kate Mikhail

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