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In which I write the rules of chatting up


MUCH talk is given to the proverbial glass ceiling, the gender pay gay and the socio-economic implications of this apparent sexism.

Less talk is given to how our social environment helps shape our workplace relations and how men are wielded an advantage that is legitimised by women.

The power struggle between the sexes begins long before they meet in the boardroom. It starts in bars and nightclubs; even teenage discos.

Consider the systematic process of courtship in its earliest stages. The vast, vast majority of women wait for a man to approach and, crucially, face outright rejection.

It must be terrifying. I can't imagine how it would feel to walk across a dance floor, doing my best impression of a devil-may-care Don Juan, only to be shooed away with an emphatic presentation of a wedding ring. But I can imagine the learning curve this represents. By taking the lead in early courtship (albeit symbolically), men develop all manner of life skills.

They learn how to promote. They learn how to persuade. Most importantly, they learn how to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and start all over again – that very night, in most cases.

So how does this relate to the world of work? Well, anyone in HR will tell you that men are more likely to apply for jobs for which they don't have all the requirements; they are more inclined to self-aggrandise in an interview situation and then, once they get the job, they are more likely to ask for a raise.


It would be fascinating to conduct a study on the work lives of the rare women who take a leading role in early courtship. The women who initiate conversation, who make the first move and send the first text.

Better still, the women who get down on one knee and ask for a man's hand in marriage. Surely they are the women that go places.

I'd also like to conduct a study on the men whose approach to approaching is bordering on the psychotic.

Every so often I'm approached in a nightclub by a gentleman who seems to have been taught at the deaf and dumb school of seduction.

This type of gentleman weaves his way through the dancefloor, stands right beside me and just stares. At no point does he open his mouth.

Some say it's flattering; I find it

disturbing. Sometimes I wonder if he knows that I know he's there.

Who is this man in the office? Does he even have a 9-5? Does he come to the nightclub on his own (surely his friends would advise him against peripheral participation, or 'lurking' at it is more commonly known)?

It gets weirder. I was in a nightclub on Saturday night where I was joined by not one but two lurkers. I was essentially bookended by them, yet not a word was uttered. I hasten to add that these men didn't know one another either.

But there was a moment when the men acknowledged each other's presence, when the hunter eyed the hunter and the lurker recognised himself in the eyes of another.

I felt like I was in the middle of a contemporary art installation. Or in a remote tribe in deepest, darkest Africa.

We stood in silence for 10 minutes. I was damned if I was going to talk to them (grow a pair, etc.) and I was damned if was going to be forced to move away from what was a plum position in the club.

Besides, maybe it was my own fault. They say men only approach women when they detect a 'green light' signal, or an 'approach invitation' as US dating coaches describe it.

"It's the woman who chooses the man who chooses the woman," says my friend's older sister.

In short, a woman uses body language to say come-hither. She might hold a man's gaze, smile suggestively or even wink. Or she might just look back at him more than once, as is what happens to me almost every time I go out.

When I feel someone's gaze on me from across a room, my knee-jerk reaction is to look over. And then I look back again to see if they are still looking.


Bang! A green light for them; a flashing red light for me.

Open sesame, thinks our resident Romeo, as he makes his way across the room while trying to channel Patrick Dempsey in a straight-to-DVD romcom.

I would be more gracious if they actually opened their mouths. Even a 'hello' would enable us to elegantly progress to the deal or no deal stage. Alas, they just stand there, staring gormlessly, presumably thinking they won't have to face rejection if they don't utter a word.

If you are reading this and you think you could be a lurker, allow me to tell you a story about the best approach I ever received.

It was at a ska gig where the thick smell of marijuana had rendered most of the men incapable of even basic communication. Well, except for one man. His glazed, bloodshot eyes met mine from across a bar and he was soon swaying across the room before sidling up beside me.

"Boyfriend?" he asked conspiratorially.

"Yes," I replied instantly.

And that was that. Three syllables, two seconds, one shot. He gave me a sailor's salute before walking away.

I admired his efficiency. Can you imagine how he parlays that approach into the workplace? I'd hire him senseless.