We all have expectations about how things happen. This order of events in our minds is referred to as a script, and the most familiar example of a script is going to a restaurant. When we go to a restaurant we expect things to happen in a particular order: you’re escorted to your table, you are presented with a menu, you order and eat your food, and you pay the bill. When your expectations for events occur in the specific order that you expect, it helps guide your behavior and allows you to know what to expect to happen at the event (in this case dining out) progresses. Right?
We use well-developed scripts in our personal relationships too. Our scripts let us establish expectations of behaviors, and that they will be performed in a familiar sequence. In relationships, those sequences are usually nonverbal and can be very subtle. For example, husbands don’t usually arrive home from work and say, “Evening honey, how about sex at 9:00 tonight?” The negotiation can be quite a bit subtler. You might turn down the lights a bit and light a candle, or move a little closer, for example.
There are three distinct phases
people must go through in
order for their flirtatious
behavior to achieve their desired result.
You can find patterns occurring in the beginning of relationships just as clearly as the one above. I want to tell you about one that was identified by Timothy Perper and Susan Fox. They performed observational studies in singles’ bars in New Jersey and New York City in the late 70s and early 80s. In their research they watched single people enter bars alone and sometimes leave with someone, sometimes not. The researchers observed that there are three distinct phases people must go through in order for their flirtatious behavior to achieve their desired result.
As with most things in life, the first phase is approach, where one person approaches another person. The approached person must then respond positively for the flirtation to continue. If the approach is not greeted warmly, the flirtation abruptly ends. One important factor is the direction of the approach; it is very gender specific. Men dislike being approached from the front, whereas women are uncomfortable with being approached from the side. This goes back to the concept of “invasion of personal space.” The researchers found that women are more likely to respond negatively than males to side-by-side invasions of space, while men respond more negatively than women to face-to-face invasions of space. Remember that the next time you are at a bar and see someone interesting.
When you approach someone, it is critical that you smile in a genuine and sincere way. The difference is that an insincere or fake smile is usually asymmetrical and the onset is peculiarly delayed. You might notice that the smile lasts longer, and you never see the expected full-face smile. By that I mean that no wrinkles can be observed in the area around the eyes.
Finally, as we approach and say “hello,” we flash our eyebrows. This eyebrow flash is an unconscious attentive signal displayed when we approach someone we hope to interact with, get to know, etc.
Swivel and Synchronize
When the new person welcomes your approach, some kind of opening line or conversation starter is required for things to progress. One study asked participants to generate opening lines men or women might use to initiate an interaction with someone of the opposite sex. Some of the most ridiculous offhand lines used by men—and ones I would not recommended—include, “Is that really your hair?” “You remind me of a woman I used to date,” and “Your place or mine?” Those used unsuccessfully by women included, “Didn’t we meet in a previous life?” and “Hey baby, you’ve got a gorgeous chassis, mind if I look under the hood?” One of the study’s conclusions (You’re shocked, right?) was that cute or flippant opening lines are the least desirable. So be sincere!
When you approach someone,
it is critical that you
smile in a genuine and sincere way.
This stage is called “swivel and synchronize” because people actually turn to face each other and synchronize their movements. One indication that you have the interest of the other person is by noticing behavior matching and movement synchrony. This means that our gestures and postures of the couple begin to match, and it happens at more or less the same time. Be careful to note that most people are really good at distracting or hiding nonverbal behavior from the waist upward, but very few people are good at hiding it from the waist down. So, if you need to establish whether someone is bored in your company, just look at their lower legs and feet.
In the swivel and synchronize phase, you are usually near enough to the other person to clearly see their eyes. When you find someone attractive, your pupils dilate or become larger and this, in turn, makes us appear more attractive ourselves. It is a dead giveaway for interest, not boredom.
In the touch phase, one person takes the risk to touch the other, and the touched person must receive the touch in a positive way for things to progress. Touch is very important in social interaction and in relationship development; nothing progresses without it. This phase not only involves touch, but also talking, listening, and reciprocal self-disclosure. It also includes engaging in humor. Research indicates that women are more likely than males to touch first. In the touch stage, in addition to talking, listening to the other person is critical. Good listening is not that automatic “yeah, yeah” but rather observing and restating what the other person said. Reciprocal disclosure, telling somebody about yourself and listening while they tell you about themselves, is also a really big deal in the establishment of a bond. Research tells us that the more a person discloses to us, the more we like them. And in all honesty, we all tend to like people more if they allow us to tell them about ourselves.
During the conversation stage, it’s likely that the two people will engage in various humorous exchanges. However, researchers have observed that during conversations between men and women, it is the amount of laughter produced by the woman rather than the male that indicates their interest in dating. The researchers suggest that a woman’s receptivity to humor indicates her sexual interest.
Good listening is not that
automatic “yeah, yeah”
but rather observing and
restating what the other person said.
So, just like in most parts of your life, there are patterns that work and those that don’t. Be sure that you pay attention to the patterns that work when meeting someone, whether it is for networking or for personal reasons, such as initiating relationships. People are pretty consistent and if you follow the basic rules of engagement, then your time flirting will be much more successful than if you try and reinvent the wheel.
SPEAK WITH A LIFE COACH IN BATON ROUGE
Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.