Victoria Smith-Douglas
Geographer, writer, educator.

Being aware of the signs of flirting at work is useful for all of us.  Whether or not you're open to an office relationship or if you have your eye on a colleague, knowing when others are interested is the first step to avoiding professional and romantic awkwardness at work.

How do you know if someone is flirting with you at work?

It may be an instinctive, universal human behavior, but people flirt in different ways.  According to research (Hall, Xing, and Brooks, 2014), neither men nor women are good at spotting when someone is interested, although they're better at picking up that they're not.  Here are 17 signs of flirting to look for in the workplace.

1. Oh, you again!

If they’re always there, running into you “accidentally” or looking for excuses to talk, that’s a strong sign your coworker is interested.  They may even adjust their schedules or switch their break times to coincide with yours.  If they seem to be doing anything to spend a little bit of time with you, chances are they’re interested.

2. Physical proximity.

Do they always make sure to grab the seat next to you at the morning meeting?  Do they take every opportunity to stand nearby at the photocopier? Look to see if they maintain less personal space when in conversation with you compared with other coworkers.

3. Physical contact.

A brief touch on the shoulder, a light brush against the arm or a playful nudge of the elbow might make you suspect someone is flirting.  If this type of contact happens often, whether disguised as accidental or not, it could be flirting.

4. Body language.

Leaning in when they speak with you, angling their feet or knees toward you and mirroring are well-known indicators many people look for. When we flirt we often make unconscious movements, such as touching our hair or face, standing so as to accentuate the hips (for women) or sucking in the gut and puffing out the chest (for men).  Nervousness and fidgeting can also be seen when an individual is smitten.

5. Compliments.

If someone compliments you at work, it usually just means you’re doing a good job.  But do they compliment you frequently?  Are the compliments just work-related, or do they relate to your personality, appearance, or general qualities?  If a colleague appears to be looking for reasons to pay you a compliment, this suggests they’re flirting.

6. Playful teasing, banter and joking.

This is a classic form of flirting that can be seen in school classrooms across the globe.  That doesn’t mean we grow out of it as we get older, and certain work environments can be conducive to this behavior.

7. Are you single?

If someone is interested, they’ll want to know if you’re available and subtly or not so subtly try to find out.  They’ll also find a way to let you know they’re single.  But beware of married colleagues or those in relationships, who might be deliberately hiding their relationship status as part of their flirting technique.

8. When you’re smiling…

When someone is flirting, they'll tend to smile at you a lot with a glint in their eye.  Another facial expression to look for is raised eyebrows, indicating interest or excitement. 

9. Eye contact.

Prolonged eye contact goes beyond the two-to-three-second glance that most people are comfortable with. If your work colleague is gazing into your eyes whenever you speak, then it could be that they're very interested.

10. Here’s looking at you…

Looking you up and down as they speak is an obvious giveaway.  But regularly glancing your way for no particular reason is another behavior you might notice from a flirt.

11. Paying close attention.

Do they give you undivided attention when you speak?  Do they lean in and look interested, even if you’re going over last month’s budget report, and remember every detail?  This can be a sign of workplace flirtation. 

12. A helping hand.

If they voluntarily help you out, they could be looking for your attention, hoping to impress you or trying to show their interest.  They might speak up for you or consistently agree with your opinions. Perhaps they are simply a very supportive colleague. On the other hand…

13. Invitation to meet outside work. 

Whether just to grab a coffee at break time or to meet for drinks after work, when a colleague expresses that they want to see you outside of work, it shows they want more than a professional relationship.

14.  Social media attention.

It’s not unusual to have work colleagues who are part of your social media network.  But how interested are you really in your colleagues’ Instagram posts?  If a coworker is liking every post and is always the first to respond, this is probably more than just politeness.

15. Sharing personal information.

If their conversation goes beyond work-relevant chat, and they want to share deeper and more intimate topics, they’re inviting you to be part of their personal life. 

16. Laughing at your jokes.

Maybe you’re just a great comedian, but laughing at all your jokes is a good indication your coworker is flirting.  Similarly, if they’re always trying to make you laugh, it’s another strong sign.  If their jokes include sexual references and innuendo, the indications are even stronger.

17. Behaving differently around you.

This is the most important sign to look for.  If you suspect someone might be flirting with you, always check to see if they act the same way with other people or if you've been singled out for special attention. Many people have flirtatious personalities, but if someone is extra-friendly with you, that’s the clearest sign that they’re flirting.

What to do about it.

An important thing to remember about workplace flirtation is that it's not necessarily a sign that the person wants a relationship.  Some people use flirting as a way to lighten the mood and get through the workday, while others might even use it as a career-advancement strategy.  Once you’ve deciphered if the flirter is genuine or just a playful or even strategic flirt, you need to decide what you want to do about it.  

If you’re interested.

Office romances are certainly risky, but that doesn’t stop many of us from trying them out.  If you’ve deciphered that a coworker is flirting and decided to either flirt back or respond to their interest directly, make sure you do it in the right way to avoid breaking the written or unwritten rules of your workplace.  You’ll want to check your employer’s policy on workplace dating and should take a step back to consider if the potential relationship is worth the potential career difficulties you could face.

If you’re not.

Whether the unwanted attention is from a man or a woman, make sure your response is unambiguous.  Quietly demonstrate your lack of interest by maintaining physical distance, keeping communication to essentials and professional in tone and avoiding being alone together.  Alternatively, take the more direct approach of clearly stating your feelings.  How you choose to respond might depend on your relative positions in the workplace. If the source of the unwanted flirtation is in either a supervisory or subordinate position to you, greater care must be taken. If you feel uncomfortable or if the flirting has crossed the line to sexual harassment, consult with HR or a superior.

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