A guide to not giving women ‘the wrong idea’

First published at Daily Life, 28 August 2013

It’s so difficult these days to know whether or not you’re flirting with someone. You might think that it might be fairly obvious whether you’re sexfully interested in a person, but it transpires that we can’t always control those cues that we’re sending out.

A man in the workplace, yesterday.

A man in the workplace, yesterday.

And in these complicated times, when men and women are working together as equals – equals who aren’t paid the same or anything – we need to be extra conscious of not firing up the loins of our easily mis-cued colleagues.

Fortunately the ladies have had it all explained to them recently in the US by Jhana, an employee training and education service, via their excellent piece “What if a male colleague gets the wrong idea?” (which they sadly and inexplicably took down – but not before Jezebel took some helpful screenshots. The piece explained to the ladies that sometimes chaps get the wrong idea, which is their responsibility and definitely not just the dudes’ problem.

In a perfect world, women would feel free to dress however they want without being stigmatized for it. But know that revealing clothing and certain verbal tics, such as ending statements with an upward inflection in your voice or struggling to accept a compliment, can affect others’ ability to take you seriously.

But ladies, don’t think that you’ve been failing to take responsibility for the actions of your colleagues because you’re some sort of harlot – hey, maybe you’re just an idiot!

Don’t say or do anything you wouldn’t say or do in the presence of your grandmother. If you sense that you could start unconsciously flirting (you’re human, and sometimes it happens), imagine that your grandmother is in the room. If you’d feel embarrassed saying or doing whatever you’re about to say or do in front of Grandma, don’t go there.

And that’s the sort of helpful, not-at-all idiotic advice that helps everyone get along without conflict, let alone challenging any of those statuses or quos. But what about the poor, baffled men out there worried that they’re sending “the wrong signals” when they’re confronted with terrifying women? Don’t worry chaps, I’ve used Jhana’s insights to help construct some similarly helpful tips for the confused Y-chromes.

1. Watch what you wear, whore!

Oh sure, you should be able to wear whatever you like – if this was Shangri-la! Anyway: the point is that you might think that you look quite smart in your suit, but what message are you sending, really? We’ve all seen Mad Men, and thus we know that wearing a suit basically means that you’re totes DTF.

Casual clothes also send the message that you’re easy, and avoid anything that clings to your body and shows off things like arms or legs or necks or hands. Basically, cover your entire body in such a way that makes it appear that you’re not at all sexual, while also ensuring you look hot. But hey, have fun with it!

2. Watch what you say, moron!

We’ve all been in that awkward position where we’ve realised too late that we’ve said something flirtatious in the workplace, like, “Would anyone like a coffee?” or “Is someone trying to use the printer?”  Now use your “common sense” to determine whether you merely think the idea, or yell it out of your mouth like a crazy person. Imagine that your grandmother is watching, except that she’s very, very small, lives in your skull, is entirely under your control, is part of your brain, and isn’t your grandmother. If what you’re about to express is inappropriate, threatening or batshit insane, we say: don’t go there!

3. Nudity? No-dity!

This is connected with the first point about appropriate clothing, but this is more specific to your flirtatiousness and attitude, and whether you’re the sort of guy that is a bit touchy-feely and maybe likes to wander around the office with your junk dangling proudly like a fleshy windsock.

Strangely enough, many people find the sight of naked colleagues to be somewhere between “distracting” and “the very stuff of nightmares”, so it’s best to use your discretion to determine whether or not you genuinely believe that No Pants Thursdays is likely to get enough organisational support to become a regular thing. Rule of thumb: if you need to ask someone if they’re down with seeing your penis, they’re not down with seeing your penis.

Next week: other handy negotiating-the-workplace tips, including “when is it appropriate to start a fire?” and “running through the office screaming and slapping people: faux pas, or faux plus?”

You’re welcome.

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