• Learning How to Flirt

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    “Well,
    hello there,” I say to a colleague I’ve never met before,
    taking care to tilt my head back whilst looking down my nose at
    the same time, meanwhile trying to fix her with my eyes. “I
    see you’re reading the company newsletter.” She looks
    away. No surprises there. Research published earlier this week in
    the scientific journal Evolutionary Psychology may have found
    that we make ourselves more attractive to the opposite sex if we
    tilt our head (back, if you’re a man, forwards if you’re
    a woman), but I can’t see how anyone could fail to be alarmed
    by a complete stranger flirting with them, whether it’s in
    the office, a restaurant or even a party.

    Blue-sky thinkers
    know better. Or the restaurant chain Pizza Express certainly does,
    having recently hired a communications expert to train its staff
    in the art of subtle flirtation and “unique conversation techniques”
    in order to boost takings. I went along to a session at their new
    restaurant in Richmond, south-west London, to see if I could deliver
    a killer head tilt and mean mozzarella and tomato salad with the
    best of them.

    I met my new
    colleagues – a small, friendly group of mainly teenage and
    twenty-something waiters and waitresses – at 9am. It’s too
    early for polysyllabic conversation, let alone a wink, a nod and
    a how’s-your-father. Fortunately, Karl James, our trainer,
    eases us in gently, with an interesting discussion about what makes
    for good conversation, the key relationships in a restaurant and
    how to improve dialogue among them.

    James, 46 and
    understatedly charming, is a former actor and director who now runs
    the Dialogue Project, a company that helps foster better communication.
    But what might otherwise have been just another standard training
    session heats up when we get on to the topic of flirting –
    defined by James as a “way of engaging with people that you
    wouldn’t do normally.”

    One waitress
    describes how she might help an indecisive customer to choose the
    right pizza: “I’d say, ‘Are you a cheese person?
    Or maybe you’re in more of a meaty mood’.”

    “Excellent,”
    says James. “Very playful.”

    Other examples
    of “playfulness” might include asking someone what their
    day had been like out of 10, or inquiring why they always chose
    the same pizza. Open-ended questions that keep the conversation
    going are key. One waiter, described by James as “camp as Christmas,”
    is mentioned for the “delicious” way in which he recently
    chatted to a large group of girls about their holidays.

    “Listening
    to people is the most seductive thing you can do,” says James.
    “They’ll fall in love with you. And besides, they’ll
    give you huge tips.”

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    November
    27, 2010

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