Lorelei Yang
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Wonky consultant with a passion for words

Given the amount of time we spend at work, it's unsurprising to learn that many of us will engage in workplace flirting at some point in our lives. However, commonplace as this behavior may be, it's fraught. Understanding what workplace flirting looks like and what circumstances it's appropriate in is essential to anyone looking to bring their relationship with their work crush up a notch.

What flirting at work looks like

Flirting at work looks much like flirting anywhere else. The telltale signs that someone's flirting with you may include extra smiles directed at you, special treatment, touchiness, making an extra effort to remember things about you or that you've mentioned, nervousness around you or going out of their way to mention things you have in common. 

Finally — and most obviously — asking about your relationship status or voluntarily sharing their own relationship status without your prompting are often telltale signs of interest.

Valeh Nazemoff, a strategic business technology advisor and author of "The Dance of the Business Mind," draws a parallel between acceptable in-office flirting and what she's seen from professional dancers. She says, "Despite close physical contact, professional dancers don't become inappropriate. It's a fine line, but when done right, you're in tune and part of a strong team. Mutual office flirting means it is shared — both ways, like the cha-cha-cha dance, where it goes back and forth and creates a continuous dialogue. Sexual harassment is not an ongoing interaction, but one way, meaning it makes the receiver feel uncomfortable, and within themselves, they carry a negative emotional feeling. It becomes sexual harassment when a 'not interested' communicated expression is ignored and the pursuit continues." With Navemoff's advice in mind, make sure any in-office flirting you may engage in is wanted, reciprocated and mutual.

Is it ever OK to flirt at work?

Whether it's OK to engage in flirtatious behavior at your particular place of work depends on the company you're working for. Consult your employee handbook to check your employer's policy on this topic. Many companies have firm rules against intra-office romance — if yours falls into this camp, it's absolutely not OK to flirt at work. 

However, if your company is more relaxed about this issue, it's acceptable to flirt with your office crush at work... as long as you keep it appropriate and don't cross any lines.

Keeping workplace flirting appropriate

If your workplace is okay with employees engaging in romantic relationships, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind to ensure everything stays appropriate:

1. Ensure your work remains the top priority for both of you.

Flirting with your office crush may be more fun than doing your work, but you're paid to fulfill your work responsibilities. Thus, work should remain the top priority for both of you.

2. Make sure no one else is interested in the same person.

Workplace love triangles may make for great TV (I'm looking at you, Grey's Anatomy), but they don't make for great real life. Flirting with a coworker that a third coworker's also flirting with is a recipe for drama, tears, tension and office gossip. Avoid these sticky situations like the plague.

3. Assume that your coworkers notice what's happening.

No matter how low-key you think you're being, it's a near-certainty that your coworkers will notice your flirty banter and gossip about it amongst themselves. Keep this in mind when you're flirting with your office crush, and make sure you feel comfortable with this reality.

4. In-office PDA is a no-no.

This should be self explanatory: no one wants to see you and your office crush making out at work. 

5. Don't cross ethical boundaries.

No matter what you do, never, ever, ever flirt with coworkers who are married or in committed relationships. Doing so is icky and will give your coworkers plenty of ammunition to question your judgment and trustworthiness.

Can you be fired for flirting at work?

It depends. Whether you can be fired for flirting at work depends on your specific company's policies on employee fraternization (hint: check your employee handbook to see what it says on this topic, especially since many companies have strict rules around in-office romances) and your ability to stay within reasonable bounds (regardless of how your employer may feel about intraoffice relationships, inappropriate behavior in the office is liable to get you fired regardless of whether the relationship itself is acceptable).

It should also go without saying that sexually harassing a disinterested coworker will absolutely get you fired. So, if you find yourself engaging in one-sided flirting, stop immediately — odds are, you're sexually harassing the other person, and you will get fired for it.

How to stop flirting at work

If you decide you need to stop flirting at work, here are a few helpful tips for avoiding this behavior. First, keep your office conversations professional and focused on work, rather then each others' personal lives. Second, avoid drinking with colleagues, especially if you have a tendency to get a little too rowdy at those types of events — drinking around someone you're attracted to is asking for trouble in the form of doing something you might live to regret. Third, try to avoid being alone with the coworker you're romantically interested in. Having other people around as buffers when you interact will make it harder for you to get flirty without it getting awkward for everyone, which should help discourage flirty behavior.

Armed with this information, you can now keep your office relationships appropriate and friendly. If you do engage in an office romance, you're now empowered with the information you need to conduct it with discretion without endangering your job. And, if you're looking to stop flirting with your cute office buddy, you'll be able to do so, too.

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Lorelei Yang is a New York-based consultant and freelance writer/researcher. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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