Emotion, Seduction & Intimacy

Chapter 3: Friendship and Flirting



George Burns once famously said:

There will always be a battle of the sexes because men and women want different things. Men want women, and women want men.

Let’s have some fun with this idea and explode a few myths.

Myth: Men are more interested in sex than women.
Science: Men and women are as interested in sex as each other1.
Myth: Men initiate nearly all sexual encounters.
Science: Women initiate between 65% and 90% of sexual encounters2.
Myth: Men are afraid of commitment.
Science: “Commitment” has different meanings, and different consequences, for men and women3.
Myth: Men are always “up for it”.
Science: 94% of men and 98% of women report “unwanted sexual attention”; 63% of men and 46% of women report “unwanted sexual intercourse”4.

Betty Friedan, one of the founders of the modern women’s movement in the United States, reviewed women’s growing sexual appetite prior to the 1960s. She claims that from the 1950s onwards, it outstripped men’s5. The most compelling contemporary evidence is that 98% of romance novels are read by women, and this constitutes 40% of the

market for paperback books. Furthermore, most romance novels are now based on stories about the workplace in which a man (or men) overpower a woman who resists.6 While romance novels cover a wide range of books (not all contain explicit sex), they are always about the sexual chemistry that occurs between men and women.Consider this carefully for a moment. If nearly 40% of all the paperbacks read are female fantasies about romance at work, how is this impacting on workplace relationships between women and men? And if the single most popular story line in women’s romance novels is identical to the legal definition of sexual harassment, what are the implications for managing the “problem” of harassment at work? While there is a difference between having and acting out a fantasy, having fantasies about work colleagues changes our body language when we are with them. When body language impacts on work colleagues’ perceptions (whether intentional or not) a person’s workplace fantasies starts to affect their colleagues’ workplace reality.

Another way to gauge men’s and women’s interest in each other is dating sites on the internet and personal ads in newspapers. While more men register on-line (60% men, 40% women), personal ads in newspapers are consistently the reverse (around 60% women, 40% men)7. Each places more adverts in the place they most frequently ‘visit’. Taken together, however, it shows that men and women seek each other in roughly equal numbers.

On adult sites specifically designed for people to find casual sex, however, men outnumber women by 20:1. Does this prove that men are more interested in sex than women? No. It simply shows that women want sex “with strings” while men want sex “without strings”. As Warren Farrell wrote in the late 1980s:

Women are still taught to be sexually cautious until two, three, or all four conditions – attraction, respect, emotions, and intellect – are met. Many women add fifth and sixth conditions: singleness and status/success. And many add a seventh, eighth, and ninth: the man must ask her out; he must pay; and he must risk rejection by initiating the first kiss.


Men are socialized to want sex as long as only onecondition is fulfilled – physical attraction.8

Subsequent research confirms that this is still the case.9

A few years ago, Robert Winston referred to a study during the BBC television series Human Instinct to suggest that men are much more interested in sex than women10. Based on a simple test, he claimed that 75% of men, but almost no women, responded positively to a sexual approach by an attractive member of the opposite sex. He pointed out that fewer men responded positively for an invitation to have a coffee than an invitation to have sex. He then used these findings to suggest that men were “instinctively” more interested in sex. There are two problems with his assertions. Firstly, they ignore cultural norms regarding non-verbal/verbal initiation in relationships; secondly, the study actually showed that men and women were equally interested in sexual relationships, but differed over the time they would wait before suggesting sex.

Let us consider cultural norms first. Men are almost never propositioned by a woman verbally (unless she is selling sex, in which case men are propositioned all the time by other means11). So if an attractive woman verbally offers sex without payment, it is an extremely rare opportunity. That is probably why 75% of the male respondents said ‘yes’. Being offered coffee, however, is more common so saying ‘no’ simply reflects supply/demand dynamics of the situation. Women, on the other hand, are verbally propositioned more frequently. As one of my woman friends used to joke, “if I put a picture of a can of baked beans on my internet page, I would probably still get propositioned!” Saying ‘no’ does little to diminish her chances of finding a sexual partner so women prefer to check out a man first to see what else is on offer and this explains why few female respondents quickly said ‘yes’.

To get a feel for this, it might be interesting to do a survey to see how willingly university age men and women would accept the offer of a ride in a Porsche to eat in an expensive restaurant when the car is driven by an unattractive looking 40-year-old member of the opposite sex …

Interestingly, Robert Winston fails to mention one of the most important findings in the original study12. An equal number of men and women responded positively to the offer of a date (50%). The differences emphasised in the popular media ignored the findings regarding long-term sexual relationships and focussed on casual sex. It tells us more about who has power in sexual matters than who is more interested in sex.

Another way to consider this question is why do women impose preconditions when their interest in sex is as great as a man’s? The answer is that women are taught, most often by other women, that sex is a source of considerable power13. As Nancy Friday found, men and women both fantasise by a ratio of 4:1 that the other sex will take the lead in a romantic encounter (i.e. be the first to risk rejection). The cultural arrangement that men should make the first public declaration of interest is an indicator of where power really lies. Where does it lie?

Women get their wish three-quarters of the time; men get their wish one-quarter of the time (and only then, if the man actually prefers to take the lead and risk rejection). As men usually have to play their hand first, power over courtship passes mainly to the woman who can accept or reject the man. Men do exercise this choice, but much more rarely. As a result, the issue of how women use this power is one of the topics discussed throughout this book.

With this ‘balance of power’ in mind, let us consider stories of fun, friendship and flirting in the workplace. As will be illustrated, the view that “flirting always leads to trouble” is not born out by research or personal experience. Different studies claim that between 40–70% of people find their partner in a workplace setting so clearly many people flirt successfully at work14. In one recent study, 40% of married women claimed they had changed jobs to increase

their chances of finding a husband. The workplace, therefore, remains a primary ‘hunting ground’ for husbands, despite the fall in the numbers of men and women getting married15. In only 10% of cases does flirting lead to serious problems for the parties involved, and only 20% of people in an international survey reported that others’ close relationships caused them problems at work16.In this chapter, we will look at seduction success stories, how friendship can be built through fun, and how sometimes this evolves into flirting and a relationship. After this, I will discuss a much misunderstood aspect of seduction – its roots in equality – and how these techniques can be observed in same-sex relationships, or during sales, marketing, recruitment, induction and socialisation.

What is Seduction?

Come with me on a journey with Ben, Hayley and Diane and see the groundwork that they lay before Hayley and Ben develop a flirty relationship in the workplace. The following interview and journal notes were made during an anthropological study of a medium sized company. The principal benefit of this approach (over retrospective interviews and stories) is the insights that can be derived from observing events as they unfold. Only Ben gave information about the development of the relationship, but it is still useful and interesting (and quite rare) to see how relationships develop from a man’s point of view.

When Ben first met Hayley, he was not particularly impressed by her:

Met Hayley. She was pleasant, but a smoker (!). This morning I went through inputting stuff with her – I think she is overawed. It was nice to get to know her a bit but she’s very young. She looked exhausted. She says she gets up at 5.30 am and gets home at 8.30 at night. We had a good chat in the afternoon; I talked a little bit about my work. I think she finds it a strange place, but is now working on the training awards and that motivated her a bit. Very pleasant,


accommodating, she likes to work – but….how can I put this….born with a silver spoon in her mouth (I don’t wish to be unkind). Her dad runs a business, mum’s a lawyer. She travels a long way – you don’t do that without someone putting money in your pocket.

First impressions, however much psychologists suggest we rely on them,do change. As Ben later admitted:

This initial impression was not particularly accurate as she’d held a Saturday job for years, and worked full time for considerable periods. She proved to be confident and resourceful, so this initial impression was probably because she was uneasy about what she’d learnt in her first week.

The idea that first impressions count is a half-truth. First impressions matter in that we quickly evaluate a person on the basis of their dress sense, looks, talk and status (as they appear to us in that moment).

When we say later that we realised there was something special about the person straightaway, it is true in most cases – but the same is true of any person we willingly keep as a friend.

John Molloy, to his surprise, found that many women – like Ben – disliked, or were unimpressed, with their spouse when they first met them. It turns out that the people who most attract us are those who change our mind the most, after we have established a first impression. Social psychologists agree – the amount of change as we get to know a person is more important than first impressions.

Ben and Hayley’s line manager was called Diane. During first impressions, members of a group exchange information about their life, where they live, their family, upbringing and aspirations. After a short while, however, Ben reports that his conversations with Hayley and Diane changed to ‘story swapping’.

Hayley and myself have things to do, but we have chats too. In the morning Hayley told us about having a flat tyre and someone stopping to change it. Then Diane told a story about the police who once pulled her over because she had a flat tyre, but instead of taking her to task they changed the tyre for her! I said that was funny because I’d read a book which starts with a story about a woman who broke down with a flat tyre and does not even try to change it. Instead


she waits for a man to go past – who promptly stops and changes it for her. A few weeks later this happened for real when I was driving home with my girlfriend. I stood for 20 minutes trying to flag down a car but none stopped so we changed places. The women still drove straight past, but the first man that came along stopped!

These ‘non-risqué’ stories then get replaced by stories about love lives. A week or two later, Ben, Hayley and Diane were telling much more personal stories:

Hayley and I got stuck back into the due diligence report. The highlight was a relaxed friendly discussion between Hayley, Ben and Diane. They talked about soaps, and the music and programmes they liked. Diane then told us that her husband had a fit body, that was why she’d stayed with him so long, in all other respects she felt they were quite different. Hayley gave Ben and Diane the story of her romance with her boyfriend – that they were friends for a couple of years – then a friend told her that he loved her. The long and short is that apart from playing the normal games, they started going out together. Diane then told us her husband is her second husband – she fell in love with her next door neighbour because they spent a lot of time together. Diane left her husband and married her neighbour – after she left, she felt guilty for a year and cried a lot. She said the “romance” in her second marriage is now non-existent but she still fancies her present husband.

After these conversations, the character of the interactions between Hayley and Ben started to change. As Ben reported:

I think Hayley quite likes me – I don’t want to misread anything – but she seems particularly upbeat when I see her. When I left yesterday she said “Oh Ben! What am I going to do without you?” I didn’t think much at the time, but it is her reaction today that makes me think she likes me coming in; she likes me helping her. She seems a good deal….a good deal happier…that is the main point.


Ben also reports that they started to pay each other compliments:

We are becoming friendly in the way that work colleagues do. When I came in this morning, I could see she’d had her hair done, and had her pullover over her shoulder and looked quite swish so I did compliment her. I could see she appreciated that.

As body language writers note, women tend to communicate in non-verbal ways (clothing, make-up, courtship signals17). Women have 13 identifiable courtship signals associated with body movements and dress-sense, whereas men only have two! Before a couple settle into equitable relationships based on chat and touch, there is a oft-repeated pattern of non-verbal behaviour on the part of the woman that prompts verbal behaviour on the part of the man.

Even after the above exchanges, when I interviewed Ben about his developing relationships at work, he did not mention Hayley amongst his ‘friends’ – instead he talked about John, Harry, Diane and Carol. This however, changed, when the situation in Iraq deteriorated and Hayley became concerned for relatives who were working in the area. When troops invaded Iraq, the Iranian army was ordered to the country’s border to thwart a possible invasion by the United States. Her relatives wrote claiming US jet fighters were invading Iranian airspace and attacking border posts. Hayley’s family were worried over the safety of family members still in Iran.

As Hayley became concerned for her relatives, Ben became concerned for Hayley.

I feel quite chummy with Hayley and she with me. She’s coming out of herself quite a bit. We wished each other a good weekend. It is her birthday next week. I promised that I would get a cake – I’ll have to come in early to get it. I felt really touched today. Hayley has decided to leave work and she said “Ben, I’m going to miss you.” I said I would miss her too. We agreed to swap email addresses. I would like to stay


in touch with her because she is an extraordinarily open and kind woman.

The developing relationship between Hayley and Ben, however, worried (or annoyed) a woman called Brenda. Hayley invited Ben to the pub after work, but Brenda objected that Ben still had to work. Ben asked if he could make up the time on Monday, but Brenda expressed concern over a finance project. Only after Ben assured Brenda that he was ahead of schedule did she relent and permit him to work flexible hours. As flexitime was the norm, and not the exception at Custom Products, Hayley reacted strongly to Brenda’s intervention:

Hayley said that she did not like the way that Brenda had reacted to Ben. Ben said that he thought it was right that Brenda checked he was completing his work, but Hayley launched into a whole series of things. She said she felt Brenda regarded her as low status, as not having skills. Hayley felt that Brenda did not help her enough and was always pausing when she talked, giving the impression that she was evaluating and judging.

There is a question over the reason for Brenda’s concern. Was she jealous or simply trying to get Ben and Hayley to keep their minds on their work? In checking with other managers, however, I found Ben was indeed ahead of schedule. Ben reported that he felt working with Hayley was making him more rather than less productive, while another manager confirmed that he had sent an email to Brenda expressing thanks for Ben’s excellent work on a payroll system.

Ben spoke of the care he took in Hayley’s company:

I’m cautious about being too friendly and getting too close or emotionally attached. It is easy to misunderstand and be too easily flattered. But there is a real rapport. We were joking about how she doesn’t keep in contact with people. I was pulling her leg saying “oh, does that mean you won’t write to me” and stuff like that because we promised to keep in touch.


Later, however, Ben’s 6 year relationship with his girlfriend deteriorated and he started to talk to Hayley about it.

At lunch I talked with Hayley and opened up about what had happened – not massively – but enough to know what had happened at home. She was very kind. We amusingly talked about my need to get back into the dating game. I said that I thought I would wait a bit before I do that. I don’t think this is all in the head but I get the feeling there is a sexual connection between myself and Hayley – not that I am going to act on it – but her concern is genuine. The way she talks, and the way we now banter with each other, does indicate to me that she rather likes me. To be fair, I think she is an attractive women too.

Why do I think that? Because of the way she was telling me that I “wouldn’t be lonely” and that I would have “no trouble”. I said that I got frustrated with the games men and women play, sometimes even when they don’t know it. She looked at me knowingly and said “Oh yes, men and women know when they are playing games!” I particularly remember her eyes as she said this, they became very narrow and quite piercing. It was light and it was nice. I don’t mind.

In the above passage, Hayley starts to take verbal initiatives. While Ben likes the attention, he still refrains from acting on his feelings. Perhaps because of this, Hayley starts to get even bolder.

Darling Hayley. She kept coming up and interrupting me from time to time. I’m sure she didn’t need to, she just likes to. She was wearing a lovely black top today so I didn’t mind being interrupted by her at all. We had lunch again, and again I felt – just like yesterday – that there was a bit of sexual banter going on. We were talking about the night out for her leaving do. She asked me if I would walk her back to her car – and she gave me such a look that I’m not sure what would happen if I did.


Hayley and I are now flirting quite openly. I hope I’m not overdoing it. I’m conscious that I might have enjoyed it too much today and got carried away. At one point she said “Ben, are you flirting with me?” I said “Yes, just a bit”, then I said “I trust you’ll tell me to stop if you don’t like it”. Then she came straight over and stood very close to me in the corner and giggled in a girlish way.

In the afternoon I had coffee with Hayley. She started asking my feelings about children, did I want children in the future? I also asked her. In my head I’m asking myself “what is going on here?” These are the kind of questions that you start to ask someone when you might have a romantic relationship with them. We agreed to swap email and mobile numbers. She even jokingly – perhaps not so jokingly – suggested meeting each other at Alton Towers. We are enjoying ourselves immensely but I hope we are not being unprofessional in our work.

Ben told me that their farewell was quite touching. They hugged three times before she departed and then their relationship continued by email.


Thought it would be nice to surprise you with an email and give you my contact details. If you print this, take it with you and then email me from your hotmail address I’ll respond to check we are communicating in both directions – then our beautiful friendship can continue to unfold!

P.S. Ever flirted by email?



You are too naughty for words. My private email is hayleymatthews@hotmail.com.

You can text me on 08776 398128.



Too naughty? Is there such a thing? Actually, you are right – I try to be a gentleman, albeit one with a sense of fun. While I have got into an emotional pickle once or twice during my life, I believe strongly in monogamy and fidelity.

Enjoy a well earned rest, and I’ll text you soon. Ben.

What I find interesting is the equity and positive outcome that resulted. However, 10 months later, Brenda sought more detailed information from Diane about Ben’s workplace relationships. Upon discovering a snippet of gossip, she took Ben into a room and told him he was behaving “immorally” and “unprofessionally”. She kept him there for nearly an hour making Ben answer questions. His earlier caution, therefore, was wise, but the passage of time did not protect him. In the next chapter, we will consider the context in which this happened.

Defining Seduction and Intimacy

Unlike the typical portrayal of seduction in Hollywood romantic films (in which men quickly save and sweep women off their feet) everyday life seduction is characterised by three things:

  • Equity
  • Reciprocity
  • Caution

Ben and Hayley’s friendship took 6 weeks to develop – that is extremelyquick. Often, close relationships of this kind take much longer. As Hayley describes, it took 2 years before her friendship with her boyfriend was transformed into a sexual relationship that later led to marriage. My own ‘friendship’ with my wife lasted for more than 6 months before we started meeting regularly. By that time we were ready for greater intimacy and it took only a few more weeks of ‘playing’ before the relationship became physical. After two months of physical intimacy we started talking about marriage.


Diane – in describing the transition from her first marriage to her second one – described how ‘friendship’ developed over a period of a year, mostly having coffee together with her next door neighbour before she and he became self-aware of their feelings. She then withheld physical intimacy until he agreed to marriage – for her it had to be “all or nothing”.

Dictionary definitions of seduction often have a negative tone. In my dictionary, the word “seduce” is described as an attempt to “tempt or entice into sexual activity or wrongdoing” or to “coax or lead astray”.18 These negative connotations, however, are not born out by the above account. The outcome of seduction can be positive as well as negative, and the evaluation itself is purely subjective and depends on how a person reflects on the experience after the event (see Chapter 7).

A second problem with the dictionary definition is the nature of the behaviour that is actually seductive. Writers on seduction draw attention to the negative impacts of neediness – both men and women recoil from others if they sense that the person is, or wants to become, dependant on them19. As a result, both parties are drawn together by qualities of independence and confidence, rather than deliberate attempts to lure people into wrongdoing. Ironically, people often fall in love unwittingly because they are focussing on a task and not paying conscious attention to the dynamics that are developing.

In the film Two Weeks Notice (Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant), it is only when faced with parting that they begin to realise how their feelings for each other have developed. In the film, the honest conflict between the characters makes the drama convincing (and funny). When Sandra Bullock, exhausted by Hugh Grant’s selfish demands, gives her two weeks notice, both of them suddenly take stock and realise that they want to be together but on different terms.

Equally convincing, once they become self-aware, they begin to dress and behave differently around each other, accentuating their sexual differences and qualities as men and women, rather than hiding them from each other. Bullock starts to play with her hair, interrupt Grant’s

meetings with other women, put on more attractive clothes, and get jealous. He, on the other hand, gets frustrated and angry that she will not show her feelings, flirts with other women to annoy her (and perhaps to cope with his disappointment). Eventually, he publicly declares the strength of his feelings.A common mistake is to think the behaviour at the end of a long process of seduction is the only ‘seductive’ behaviour. The following advice from Derek Vitalio’s website – adapted so that it is relevant to both women and men – describes qualities that are considered attractive.

You must stand up for yourself. Set rules and boundaries and stick by them. Don’t be afraid to say “no”. If she wants the keys to your apartment and you’re not ready to give them to her yet, don’t be afraid to say “no”. If he wants you to drive across the city to pickup some dry-cleaning and you were planning on visiting your friends, don’t be afraid to say “no”.

Saying “no” is different from whining and complaining. Whining and complaining is saying “no” while at the same time caving into demands. That makes you look sorry and pathetic. Always act congruently with your words. Never do something that you know is the wrong thing to do or change your mind just to please someone. Don’t be a pushover.

Sure, you should always listen and take into account opinions and suggestions. But in the end, make your own best decisions and stand up for them. Remain true to yourself and your best judgment. That doesn’t mean you need to win every time. But you do sometimes need to take your stand.20

In short, the most seductive behaviour is completely different from the kind of advice dished out in popular magazines like FHM, Cosmopolitan and Glamour such as:

…immediately after you meet him – within seconds – touch him in some way, even if it’s just to pick off imaginary lint…look down at his crotch…with a playful look or smile….wear gorgeous red underwear, and show it ‘accidentally’ – your blouse is open a bit, so a man gets a peek of red lace bra…you cross your legs and your skirt rides up...21


In contrast, Vitalio’s advice, while intended to have strong emotional impacts on women, is the reverse of ‘leading someone astray’.

The eminent social psychologist, Professor Aronson, concurs with this view.22 Happy couples, ironically, have more conflict in their relationships than less happy couples for the simple reason that they have learnt from each other that they can express their opinions freely. It means more arguments, but also more dialogue and interaction, as both parties learn the emotional benefits from expressing both positive and negative feelings openly to each other.

Some writers on seduction advocate that women should be submissive and men dominant. This advice is to mistake the game-playing of the final stageof seduction from the behaviour that precedes it. Truly seductive behaviour comes from the relaxed confidence of a person who values themselves and their own opinions. Their generosity and willingness to comprise – when finally offered – is not interpreted as manipulative, but as an expression of genuine thoughtfulness and care.

It is necessary, therefore, to distinguish between honest game playing (seduction) and dishonest game-playing that involves tempting and then hurting the opposite sex. Eric Berne’s excellent book Games People Play was the intellectual source for the best-selling I’m OK: You’re OK. It devotes a chapter to sexual games, and the motives that underlie them.23 In these games, seductive behaviour can sometime be a trap rather than an attempt to persuade a person into a committed relationship.

It is also helpful to review one study of 3,500 recently married couples that found the most attractive women were dressed in the least sexy ways. John Molloy found that the men classified the women quickly according to their dress-sense. Those who dressed sexily were regarded as seeking sex, rather than a relationship. Women who dress smartly were seen as ‘relationship’ material. Both types of women are attractive (seductive) to men, but for different reasons.

The woman who dresses in an obviously sexy way will seduce a man who is interested in sex, but she will alienate men interested in longer-term relationships. The woman

who dresses smartly seduces the man interested in a relationship and alienates the man only interested in sex. The female researchers initially did not believe this and focus groups had to be reconvened with different groups of men until they were convinced24.

Seduction and Emotion

Seduction – in the sense of building an equitable and reciprocal relationship – triggers strong emotions when parties enter the final stage. By this time both parties are self-aware of the feelings they have for the other, and are beginning to become aware that the other person wants a more intimate relationship.

In reviewing Ben’s account, what is notable is how much he resisted the idea that Hayley was attracted to him. Hayley’s growing confidence is expressed through her dress code – and Ben reinforces this when he pays her a compliment. Even after this, he only fully accepts her interest when she starts to ask his attitude to having more children. At this point, they quickly establish commitment to ‘friendship’ that acknowledges the sexual attraction but respects boundaries.

It is noteworthy that in a male/female context (and this would apply to a gay and lesbian relationships too) confidence brings about changes in behaviour as the “couple” deliberately activate each others’ sexual feelings. Intense emotions are activated because past experience suggests to both parties there is a possibility of sexual pleasure. As we will see below, however, a similar process – albeit not so emotionally intense or sexual – occurs in business relationships, between employers and employees as well as customers and suppliers.

Think of a time you seduced, or felt seduced by someone. Did you feel led astray? Did you find you could talk to that person more than any other? Was the relationship equitable or one-sided? Who do you feel did most of the seducing – or was there an unspoken mutual attraction? Did you feel respected or disrespected? How long did the seduction last? Days, weeks, months or years? How did you feel about the relationship when it ended? Or are your now married, living with, or employed by that person?

Seduction in Business

One of the most startling findings in my own research was the similarity in the seductive behaviours of women and men to the behaviours of employers and employees (even of the same sex). Below, I consider my own relationship with John – a director of Custom Products.

In my relationship with John, after an initial period of exchanging background information about our lives, we started to talk about our marriages. John initiated a discussion on ‘soul mates’ when he recommended a book. The Bridge Across Forever is a love story about a writer who puts up emotional defences to avoid a committed relationship. Eventually, he finds that his four year relationship with his agent is transforming into a committed sexual relationship. The book charts the journey the writer and his agent took. In terms of our subject matter, the book charts both the development of a love affair, but also the development of a business relationship.

After reading the book, I wrote to John:

As for my wife, we are having more ups than downs. I found reading The Bridge Across Forever has given me considerable resolve – that passage you and I both liked is pinned to the wall by my desk. It helps.

We also started giving each other help with business leads and supporting each others’ aspirations. Emails are peppered with expressions like “take care”, “have a lovely weekend”, “hope things are better at home”. We started to

go to the pub regularly after work to discuss a wide range of political, business and personal issues.After an incident where I was encouraged to play a practical joke on John, we exchanged thoughts about it. Then, John used a phrase that was to recur frequently.

Good to have you on board, Rory

The phrase “on board” became a feature of dialogue, an indication of future commitment and shared values. The amount of flattery increased. I felt sufficiently confident to share some of my poetry and John replied:

The poem was beautiful, you are a modern Renaissance man, it’s many years since I tried my hand at poetry, I enjoy reading it occasionally, another one of those things that seem to be an indulgence in such a busy world, when in fact we should find more time for beauty. Thank you for passing on your kind thoughts. I feel a bit guilty that I have so little time to spend with you, but I am confident that our people couldn’t be in better hands than yours.


The tone of correspondence at this time is such that if I changed the name from John to Janet it is quite possible that an observer might think we are flirting! However, this is quite an apt way to see the exchanges. The two parties are trying to seduce each other into committing to a long-term relationship. Shortly afterwards, the level of candour reaches a new level.


I wanted to say how much I enjoyed our drink out the other night. I could feel myself relaxing and coming out (being myself) and I realised how much I now value your friendship. I appreciate that the things you shared with me were very private – and I’m glad that you are starting to feel you know the direction you want to take your life. As for me there seems to be a lot of good humour at the moment so things still feel good with Caroline. Thanks for all your help and support, and I hope to return it one day.


Best wishes


As with Hayley and Ben, the flattery is reciprocated and enjoyable.

Hi Rory,

You are more than welcome, it’s not difficult offering support to good people like you!

Take care, see you Monday, John

Nice man, John! The motives behind the seduction are complex. On my part, there were three reasons. Firstly, it was to maintain good access for research purposes. Secondly, I wanted to keep open the possibility of future work for the company. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I liked John and found him interesting. On John’s part, the additional motives became clear when he offered employment.

Hi Rory,

We were completing some strategic planning this week and were contemplating succession planning over the next three years. One of our dilemmas has always been the search for potential senior managers/directors. It would be really good if we knew exactly what aspirations you had over the next three years and whether a career here is something you would wish to pursue. Give this some thought and let me and Harry know how you feel when we get together.

Take care, kind regards as ever John

In concluding this section on employer/employee seduction, the most compelling finding is that apart from deliberately fuelling sexual desire, the process of same-sex seduction (or cross-sex in the case of lesbian and gay women and men) follows almost exactly the same path as heterosexual seduction.



Summarising the Seduction Process

Figure 1 shows the different stages of seduction. A relationship may fail at any stage. During stage 1, both parties behave in ways that provide accessand communicate a willingness to engage in information exchange. During stage 2 there is a continuing interest in acquiring information about the other. Initially, the information is biographical, but later each starts to tell stories about their life. The stories are initially non-risqué, but if interest in maintained the stories become more personal so that each understands the state of the other’s intimate relationships.

Figure 1 – The Stages of Seduction

ch3 img 001


In stage 3, parties use this knowledge to provide emotional support. They may flatter each other to protect and develop each other’s ego. Each contributes to the sense of well-being of the other and their own confidence grows. In stage 4, this confidence is manifest through an increasing level of intimacy. Each clarifies their goals and talks about the relationship they would like. In some business contexts, this may be ritualistic and formal (e.g. an employment or supply contract negotiation). It may be accompanied by changes in clothing, body language and communication. In sexual relationships, changes involve rituals, and playful behaviours, that stimulate each other’s sexual desire. If there is a long-term intent, future aspirations and commitments will be discussed.

In obtaining feedback from women, I received two interesting comments. Firstly, one person claimed that sometimes people ‘live a lie’ and obscure the truth about their current relationships in order to seduce someone. This can happen but the seduction will fail if the true state of these relationships is revealed, or one party starts to distrust the other. A person will normally reject the seducer if they are found to be deceitful. Living a lie is not the best seduction strategy, particularly if the goal is a committed relationship.

The second comment was that seduction might be spontaneous and “for no reason at all”. I can concur that the seduction may be rapid – two people can go through all four stages in a matter of days (or hours!) if both enjoy spontaneity. Such behaviour might be found in holiday romances, or when people strike up quick relationships away from home at conferences or weddings. Spontaneous behaviour, however, is still purposeful and meets immediate emotional needs, even if not well understood. However long it takes, the pattern of behaviour, rather than the length of the intended relationship is the hallmark of seduction.


Defining Intimacy

A successful seduction leads to intimacy – a relationship in which previously private feelings and thoughts can be openly expressed and exchanged. As a verb, intimate means “to state or make known”25. As an adjective, intimate means “closely acquainted, familiar”. It can be used of people (i.e. “intimate friend” or of knowledge (i.e. “intimate knowledge of a subject”). Intimacy, therefore, is linked to the idea of detailed knowledge about something or someone.

It is not necessary to engage in sexual acts, or have sexual desires towards another, for a relationship to be intimate. As a noun, an intimate means “a very close friend”, not a lover. For a relationship to be intimate, an awareness of the other’s sexual intentions and aspirations is typical, but it does not follow that there has to be sexual interest (even if this sometimes develops). Sometimes a relationship becomes more intimate when parties agree there is no mutual sexual interest (or that any interest will not be pursued).

Amongst anthropologists like myself, an “intimate” is a term given to a person who provides information that is normally secret or hidden from others. In my work, I only succeed if I can build a network of “intimates” inside a company and compare the private reality of their lives to public claims about the culture.26 Seduction (of the honest variety), and the ability to handle multiple intimate relationships, is a necessary – and dangerous – part of my work. Misunderstandings can and do happen!

Intimacy develops when two people seek to give each other both attention and assistance. In giving and getting attention, they seek opportunities to increase levels of access and information. As the amounts increase, emotional changes occur. If these are expressed openly, the parties feelings and future intentions affect whether the exchanges will continue. Sometimes, they stop.

When they continue, however, each offers different types of assistance. Physical assistance may range from helping with a task that requires physical labour to physical


affection. Intellectual assistance could entail working out how to perform a task or advice on personal relationships. Material assistance may be paying for a meal or making a long-term financial commitment (through employment or marriage).


Figure 2 shows the interpersonal dynamics that occur during the development of intimacy:

Figure 2 – Interpersonal Dynamics and Intimacy

ch3 img 002The strongest personal friendships involve dynamics of this nature. The strongest marriages also take on this character. Strong workplace and business relationship have

this character too. In short, these are the dynamics inside strong and committed relationship of any type.In an intimate relationship, both parties reassure ‘the other’ of their commitment by maintaining levels of attention and assistance. Those that start to resist assistance and attention – or avoid equitable exchange – are proactively avoiding intimacy to limit the development of the relationship. There can be many specific reasons for this, but all are underpinned by an emotional need to exercise caution. This might derive from emotional or physical hurt in a previous relationship, or to protect another relationship. Emotional defences frustrate the development of intimacy and keep an individual safe (emotionally and physically speaking) for other relationships.

Strong relationships and the maximisation of economic efficiency goes hand in hand with the ability (and willingness) to overcome fears of intimacy. When this is achieved, relationships become more honest, information accuracy improves and fully informed decision-making can take place. For this reason, employers – particularly human resource departments – have developed a keen interest in the processes of persuasion that underpin seduction.

Corporate Seduction

The anecdotes below illustrate a fascinating aspect of corporate life – the deliberate seduction of employees through the process of recruitment, induction and socialisation. Certainly, not all companies self-consciously organise their induction processes this way, but since the rise of ‘culture management’ in the 1980s – led by Peters and Waterman’s In Search of Excellence - arguments for the conscious socialisation of each employee has gained credibility. Culture management – as a way of inducing commitment from employees – has become mainstream, but recently it has been subject to rigorous and critical scrutiny which has revealed unintended side-effects.


Perspectives on Culture Management

In a landmark paper, Hugh Willmott identifies the central characteristic of ‘culture management’ as the systematic seduction of employees so that their desires and wants match those of senior managers.27 This characterisation of seduction is at odds with the equitable process I have just described. Let me, therefore, consider criticisms of culture management that have surfaced.

Firstly, an obstacle – often unacknowledged by its advocates – lies in the governance systems and legal frameworks to which organisations have to comply. There is a contradiction between the hierarchical nature of organisational life and the equitable nature of seduction. Unless equity can develop on both sides, full seduction cannot occur – neither is able to commit fully to the relationship. Both charity and company law place legal duties on senior executives. As a result, there are unequal responsibilities placed on different contributors leading to inequities that frustrate the development of intimacy (and, by implication, organisation efficiency).

Secondly, groups often develop their own intimate behaviours and thrive by differentiating themselves from other groups. Loyalty is expected from anyone seeking to be a member and this is expressed through public declarations of commitment to group values (established indirectly by leaders and followers through humour and the way they handle disputes and disagreements). While this promotes intimacy within groups, it frustrates intimacy between groups.

To get an idea, think of Romeo and Juliet, or West Side Story. These dramas show how intimate relationships across group boundaries can be fraught with problems because of conflicting demands that group members be loyal to members of their existing group (i.e. show hostility to members of other groups). This dynamic also plays out in corporate settings.


Contradictions in Corporate Seduction

Tom Peters, one of the principal advocates of culture management argues that companies:

…simply allow for – and take advantage of – the emotional, more primitive side (good and bad) of human nature. They provide an opportunity to be the best, a context for the pursuit of quality and excellence. They offer support – more, celebration; they use small intimate units…; and they provide within protected settings opportunities to stand out....28

This is a useful quote except for the reference to the “more primitive side” of human nature. I would argue, on the basis of the previous chapter, that our emotions are the “most evolved side” of our human nature. In addition, the theme of equality and respect is recurrent – employees are talked about as if part of a happy family.

Treat people as adults. Treat them as partners; treat them with dignity; treat them with respectTreat them– not as capital spending and automation – but as the primary source of productivity gains.29

And there’s the rub – productivity gains. As Hugh Willmott points out with some eloquence, there is a contradiction at the heart of ‘culture management’. Under current company law, companies have to operate using a system of hierarchical controls, even if they do not wish to. Senior managers, therefore, can be caught between a management ideology promoting people as valuable ‘assets’ and a system of law entitling directors (or shareholders) to force managers into laying off staff when trading conditions worsen.

Employees regularly see managers disposing of employees (through sackings, redundancies or programmes for replacing permanent posts with temporary staff on renewable contracts). As a result, they understand fully the limits of the ‘equality’ and ‘reciprocity’ on offer. While there are calls for loyalty, and penalties for disloyalty, employees are constantly reminded that the CEO may wish to make them redundant next year to secure their own job and

restore profitability (or, as the CEO might describe it, “to ensure the company’s survival”).The message that reaches employees is something like the following:

…if you behave (don’t question the ‘culture thing’) and conform (‘jump through the hoops that we set and play the games that we organise’) then you’ll probably keep your job when there is another shake up – but don’t hold me to that!

Where employees work out that there is deliberate and conscious manipulation of their thoughts to achieve productivity gains (and believe the gains will not be fairly shared with them) this triggers powerful counter-cultures known as ‘soldiering’. In such a counter-culture, workers maximise their own gains while minimising the help they give other groups (e.g. managers). Such counter-cultures are not inevitable. If ‘culture management’ is coupled with genuine decision-making power, and fair surplus sharing arrangements, it can produce results claimed by its advocates.30 Even then, the results do not satisfy everyone.31


Culture management techniques are sophisticated and rely on knowledge gained from psychology. During recruitment, the company finds out a great deal about employees. Some may find this intrusive, but usually these high levels of attention give the impression that recruiters are genuinely attracted to the recruits. Tours are given, information is carefully dispensed, interviews explore candidates’ background, ask them to talk about their personal lives. While this is all done in the name of getting a ’rounded picture’ of the candidate, behaviour is carefully scrutinised to see if a person is a ‘team player’ (i.e. sociable and willing to conform to group norms).

At Custom Products, the first interview evaluates the following:

  • First Impressions
  • Working/Learning in Organisations


  • Personal and Professional Development
  • Socialising
  • Team Player
  • Cultural Fit and Philosophy
  • People Skills
  • Motivation, Resilience and Honesty

The candidate remains largely unaware that while they are talking about their life and upbringing, and the good and bad times they had in each job, the interviewers are considering these aspects of their life and character.

In some job interviews, people are given tough questions on the requirements of the job, or why they want to work for the company (to see if they have bothered to find out what the company does). In contrast, Custom Products’ approach is to invite someone in for an intimate chat and give them free reign to talk about themselves within a broad framework.

No “hard” questions are asked, although sometimes people are unsure what to say when asked about their “personal philosophy”. Despite the lack of challenging questions, the interview process can be deeply emotional. Here is how I described the interview process after going through it:

I got emotional several times; firstly, when we discussed a management training course I attended – Diane (the interviewer) shared her own experience that was similar. I could feel my body going tight and rigid while talking about it. Secondly, I got emotional talking about my strengths and weaknesses. I focussed on ‘caring too much’ and sometimes hurting people. At one point I felt tears in my eyes.

Such descriptions were quite common amongst new recruits. After talking for 3 hours or more, and culminating with questions about the most intimate areas of a person’s private life, it was common for interviewees to experience extremes of emotion and sometimes shed tears.


In place of the formal testing approach characteristic of ‘rational’ recruitment, Custom Products created an informal atmosphere. And they did not push candidates to do anything. This – I found – was deliberate. They only wanted people to work for them if they were motivated to do so without pushing them. Publicly, this was justified as a way of ensuring they only offered jobs to people who really wanted to work for them. A dip into books about seduction, however, suggests that the motive may be to increase the attractiveness of the company to the recruit.

The rationale, according to managers, was that people should “deselect” themselves if they are not willing to accept the culture. However, the techniques used are consistent with psychological manipulation designed to induce commitment subconsciously. The first technique is deliberately stoking a person’s emotions. A leaflet is sent to the candidate about the company. This includes personal stories and tributes to former staff that produce an emotional response. An appeal to sentiment rather than logic is regarded as the “peripheral” route to persuasion and works by triggering emotions which reduce scrutiny of logical arguments.32 Everyone, it seems, is a sucker for a “good cause”.

The leaflet also contains a challenge: members must accept not only the rights defined through consultation with staff, but also various responsibilities. The responsibilities include upholding values of respect, support, fairness and consistency, as well as responsibilities to work flexibly in return for a share of profits. These moral challenges also provoke an emotional response by challenging candidates to be selfless in order to make a “contribution to the community”.

The second technique is to get the candidate to proactively do favours for the company33. In the recruitment process, the potential applicant has to visit the offices, take a tour, take an application, fill in the application (in addition to sending a CV), read a leaflet etc. While this is presented as something for the candidate’s benefit, it actually produces a particular mindset.


An applicant to Custom Products has to justify six separate proactivefavours that other companies may not require. Repeatedly getting someone to do favours while inducing emotional reactions is a technique used by professional seducers. Each favour produces dissonance (it requires additional effort on the part of the candidate that they must justify to themselves). Those who perform the favour have to convince themselves that the requester is worthy of the favour. Each favour they perform increases the attraction of the company to the candidate.34 The design of the recruitment process, therefore, does more than screen out those who are not interested – it increases the interest of those who are already interested.

The Effects of Supply and Demand

During the recruitment process, candidates are – to put it bluntly – being ‘wooed’ in an extremely subtle way. It can, however, backfire. It may inadvertently benefit conformists (those who get emotional pleasure from fulfilling others’ expectations), or be more attractive to those who enjoy the challenge of navigating cultural obstacles to ‘success’. Those with a strong need for a change of employment will make more effort, while those who do not will make less. Those who do not receive the attention to which they are accustomed may sense that the company does not respect them (or their skills). Consequently, they may be less willing to engage in rituals that demonstrate commitment, or turn in a poorer ‘performance’ at interview even though they are stronger candidates.

I witnessed the effects of such a backfiring process during the 1980s/90s in the IT industry. Compulsory tendering was introduced into the public sector and strongly promoted by the then Conservative government as ‘best practice’. By the end of the decade, however, a number of our competitors (the more successful ones) privately admitted that they were no longer submitting tenders. Their reputation, based on previous work and word-of-mouth recommendation, was sufficient to create demand and they preferred to build relationships with those they

desired to work with, rather than engage in tender processes that few perceived as fair. Two common questions upon being invited to tender were: “How many other companies are tendering? Who are they?” A guarded response may result in no tender (if busy) or a half-hearted tender (if not busy).35Just as good model agencies are inundated with approaches from attractive women (and publishers and literary agents with unsolicited manuscripts from talented writers) able companies do not need to proactively seduce potential recruits or customers. The impact of supply/demand dynamics requires that would-be models and writers have to proactively seduce busy agencies rather than the other way around.

Think of the last time you recruited or were recruited by an organisation. What was the process? What information was provided to you? Was anything important withheld? What was expected of you? What did you provide to them? What did you withhold? Was it equitable, enjoyable or stressful?All organisations develop a process – formal or informal – to sell themselves (or not) to potential recruits. All recruits develop a process (or not) that projects an image to a potential employer, customer or supplier. Are you self-aware of your process?


The recruitment process at Custom Products goes a long way to completing stages 1 and 2 of seduction. The third stage involves deepening the relationship so that people feel they have emotional support. This happens in a variety of ways. Firstly, people have a week long induction during which they work for an hour or two in every department (or at least sit with someone who explains their work).

Compare this with one of my former work colleagues who, on his first day of one new job was directed to sit in the corner, read a manual, then “get on with it”. At Custom

Products, a new recruit meets dozens of people in the first week and talks to each of them for an hour or more. The impact is measurable. Here is how I described my second induction day.

Larissa said that ‘one thing you’ll find about this place is that it is full of nice people, really laid back’. I appreciated this – it was as if she was giving me the ‘inside’ view that it was a good place to work… I liked her – at lunch when I went to sit on a table by myself she indicated I should join her. I sat with her as she introduced me to her friend Irene. Larissa was about to go on her first ‘social’ with some of the other ‘girls’ from the production department – they were meeting up outside work for a curry.

Larissa mentions ‘socials’. This was a word that many people used to describe regular get togethers. During recruitment, people who do not like to socialise with their work colleagues are screened out. Those who later refuse to take part in compulsory social events are (if they do not relent) encouraged out of the company.

‘Socials’ are one place were stages 3 and 4 of the seduction occurs. The recruitment of people who like to socialise guarantees that most people will give each other affection and attention. Below, Ben describes the dynamics at an after work drink:

People are bonding inside the team. I went and got a card and cakes for Hayley’s birthday and when I gave them to her she gave me a hug. Then I told her I had not had a good weekend. I was a bit cautious at first – I said all relationships have their problems – but then she opened up and told me about her mother having breast cancer and how this had affected her and her family over the last decade. I found myself explaining in more detail about what had happened at home. We listened to each other – I think this isn’t anything more than friendship – but it was nice to talk a bit. I did feel the need to talk. I just feel closer and closer to people at work.


John was also there, and he opened up about the past. Harry and some other directors all have Physical Education degrees. They have this common bond between them through an interest in athletics. There were lots of people opening up and getting to know each other better, talking about themselves and their past, giving details about little things that let others into their lives. This is not just within our team – this drink was after a class to learn about the culture. We were all chatting away and talking about Diane’s son and the great battle she has over his schooling. I think she needed to get it off her chest. She says that she does not get out for a drink often, which (laughs) means that maybe I’m bringing her out of herself, I don’t know, because she’s been out for a drink several times with me.

Formal Company Events

If stages 3 and 4 are not achieved at ‘socials’, an annual Presentation Evening provides another opportunity to give people emotional support and sexual attention. At this event, newcomers are welcomed formally, and awards are given to outstanding achievers. Diane described the format of the evening:

Gifts are given to newcomers, and those with 5, 10, and now 15 years service. The two big awards, however, are for the person who has developed the most, voted for by managers, and the person who best embodies the values and culture of the company. The second award – named after the company founder – is voted for by all permanent employees with more than 1 years service… I chatted to the person who received the award this year and was really moved. She told me that when she heard her name, her mind went completely blank (pause) …she could not remember anything after that. To be voted this award by your fellow employees must be an experience beyond measure, I imagine.

Diane did not have to wait long to experience this herself – a year later she won the same award and I talked to her afterwards. She said that the whole evening became

something of a blur after winning and she felt as if she was on “cloud nine” for several days.Diane also talked about the bawdier side of the evening:

We had a ‘Bum of the Year’ award in which staff voted for the most attractive butt from a series of pictures. These were the butts of a number of male members of staff… The women did something similar – men voted for ‘Bust of the Year’. John – to his horror (he thought his butt would not be attributed to him) – was named as ‘Bum of the Year’. It was hilarious – John’s butt was amazing, when I first saw it I thought it was as good as any male model!

I missed the Presentation Evening in 2002, but was able to attend one that took place in 2003. The highlight of the evening was a series of departmental ‘presentations’ with staff doing wacky and outlandish things so others could have a good laugh. There were also two set-piece sexual extravaganzas. Firstly, a group of the women appeared on the big screen dressed in suspenders and stockings to the tune of It’s Raining Men. Then from all sides, groups of male employees ran around them as they pretended to dance in a sexual way. Not to be outdone, the men prepared a version of the Full Monty – but did not do the entire striptease.

After this, there were some semi-formal speeches and awards. As Harry wound down the award ceremony and directed people to the dining areas, he told the audience that he had one more surprise. Up started the music to the Full Monty again and on marched the half-dozen men who had been on the video screen. They completed the rest of the dance and when they took away their hats – all six had a flashing red willy attached to a skimpy thong!

Through these corporate rituals, stages 3 and 4 of seduction are given a boost. People’s egos are flattered during presentation ceremonies, and they receive (sexual) attention through the departmental attempts to participate in corporate “fun”. The sexual extravaganzas are deliberately organised in the hope that having “fun” together will promote bonding between staff and induce

them to increase their emotional commitment to the workplace.


The serious end of the process, however, comes when staff are asked to participate in key decisions about the company’s future. In 2004, a stage 4 situation arose when company executives put proposals to staff for an employee-buyout. The day was controlled by Harry and John – the two most senior directors. Each wore radio microphones so that wherever they walked, they could talk to all staff.

The day started with humour – with Harry showing pictures from a company day-trip to Venice. He cracked a series of jokes about the gargoyles on the roof of the churches, then displayed a church spire sporting a Robin Hood-like archer (to indicate the wind direction). Harry paused for effect, then said:

I have no idea how John got up there!

Such self-depreciating humour went down extremely well. As a quick look at social psychology texts reveal, however, humour not only relaxes people, it also triggers hormonal reactions in the brain that make people more susceptible to persuasion. This is why Emily Duberley advises that a good way to ‘pull anyone’ is laughter because “a shared sense of humour is a great way to bond”.36

The presentations and discussions went on all morning. Most staff seemed to be enthusiastically doing what was expected of them. But on one table, a woman called Tanya was red-faced and growing more angry by the minute. I decided to go over and have a chat. She commented that:

This whole day is an insult to any thinking person and an exercise in manipulation. When John speaks up it is just like previous years – they pick the groups who make the comments they want to hear and then everyone is told to consider what they say. Only 3 tables out of 12 made the point we are now discussing, but now we are all discussing it because that is what Harry and John want us to discuss.


Some of her colleagues supported her point of view. Tanya, who had worked in the company for over 10 years complained that the answers to the questions had already been rehearsed. This was true. I attended meetings between managers and a director where the latter gathered questions then worked out answers for a follow up meeting. During the ‘consultation’, I heard managers giving these answers to staff who asked similar questions to their own. I even heard people repeating arguments, word for word, that I had contributed to the earlier meeting.

Fred believed it was not a genuine debate but a fait acompli – directors were using sales techniques to sell proposals back to their own staff. Terry described an earlier ‘consultation’ as a “bitter pill to swallow”.

My own view – expressed to several people that day – was that Harry and John both wanted to get the rewards they had been working towards for a decade by selling the company (they stood to make about £3m between them if the proposals went through). At the same time, they were committed to ensuring that future wealth was owned and controlled by the staff through an employee trust. Although there is a debate to be had over whether they were exploiting their own staff twice over37, when compared to other businesspeople Harry’s and John’s proposals were generous and heart-felt.

Harry claims he could have doubled the money he made by selling the company privately or taking it public – a moot point if you think this money was already acquired through exploitation of workers’ labour – but in his own mind he was giving up about £2.5m of his own future income to ensure that the staff could own the company. There is an integrity of sorts here and most staff understood this.

At the conclusion of the day, Harry used a powerful emotional appeal, and the staff’s reaction says a great deal about the extent to which he had seduced them:

He said to them “I could not contemplate selling without giving employees the opportunity”. Then he exhorted them to “back themselves” and “buck the trend” before asking loudly “who rightfully owns this company?” At this point staff spontaneously broke into a round of applause.


Two months later, 76% of staff voted to establish both a governing council, elected from the workforce, and an employee share trust that would own the company. Through ‘socials’, ‘presentation evenings’ and ‘development days’ like the one discussed above, stages 3 and 4 of seduction are completed. Harry and John, the two most senior directors, used an array of techniques to enter into a long-term commitment with their workforce. They seduced them into a new type of relationship through which ownership passed from a minority of shareholders to a employee-owned trust.

Whether the seduction was equitable and in the interests of all parties is a different matter. Those people in the company who perceive the changes as equitable will become more committed and intimate with each other. This in itself may lead to the benefits and efficiencies that are envisaged (a self-fulfilling prophecy). Those who object may leave, or challenge the way reforms are implemented, creating unforeseen problems that future generations will have to address. Perception and emotion will continue to play a role in determining future outcomes.

Seduction in the Sales Process

The kinds of techniques described here can be reproduced in the sales process, and it has long been appreciated just how effective the use of attractive people can be in advertising. Supermodels and sportspeople, particularly if they are flaunting their sexuality, or less well known models hinting at sex, have created legends in the advertising world (e.g. the Gold Blend ‘love story’ over a cup of coffee, ‘size matters’ selling cars to women etc.).

Mintel, the leading marketing intelligence agency, captures contemporary views on advertising in its 2002 report. Subtle – but not crude – references to sex remain the most effective with ‘sophisticated’ consumers. They like to be wooed with humour. The report also highlights, for the first time, that men are growing tired of the way they are ridiculed in adverts, even through such adverts remain popular amongst women.38


Remarks need to be obvious enough to activate a viewer’s imagination but not so blatant that they are offensive. Sophisticated consumers (defined as social classes A, B and C) prefer to be seduced through wit and understatement. In other markets, however, a more bawdy approach can be successful. The Daily Sport did not grow so fast through understatement or subtle displays of sexuality!

It is unlikely that you need much persuading that advertisers use these techniques regularly, so I will not discuss them here. In the case of relationship-building in sales work, however, consider the following conversation about Simon. In this letter, Andy (Chief Executive) writes to Gayle (Company Secretary):

Simon [Marketing Manager] made a lot of your looks – your ‘presentability’ shall we call it – as a potential advantage to the company, but I was less convinced that this was an appropriate reason to appoint you. You deserved the post on the basis of your experience. I think Simon’s attitude came across quite regularly in the workplace. He was all for you doing sales stuff without regard for your discomfort about selling. This was rooted in his view that all the systems he was involved in purchasing were demonstrated by women! What does that tell you about his previous workplace? What does that tell you about Simon?

Not to mention the suppliers! One of my research participants – a salesperson with over 30 years experience – was convinced that “people buy from people”. They were cynical about the effectiveness of marketing hype when a product or service required some explanation to use, or the financial outlay required group approval. While marketing hype can work with a consumer product, in other circumstances sales staff use seduction skills (in the widest, not just sexual sense). Research, however, repeatedly shows that sales can be grown by having people sexually attractive to the customer involved in contract negotiations, even in professions that are completely unrelated to sex.39

The best salespeople are experts in seduction but this does not necessarily imply the process is dishonest. One

salesperson I worked with was called David – twice salesperson of the year at his previous employer. He had a favourite story:

There was this big account that I wanted to win. It was not hard to convince the techies that they needed the system but the manager was a much harder nut to crack. I had lunch with him one day and he kept going on about these reports that were required by the directors – it really was the bane of his life and he was so distracted that he did not want to talk about the system I was trying to sell.

When I returned to the office, I chatted to some of our own guys and they helped me work out how I could produce the reports that the manager needed. The next time I went to see the client, I took samples along. The “hard nut” cracked and became the biggest advocate for the new system – we sold it without any more problems. He was my best customer for years afterwards.

David told me this story to stress that sales is about problem-solving, not just about looking good (i.e. doing slick ‘presentations’ or being presentable) it is about meeting and exceeding the expectations of your client. He agreed, however, that people particularly enjoy being helped (seduced) by someone they find desirable. Even if understated, the process of sales – and any other aspect of ‘doing business’ – is most effective when personal chemistry combines with a genuine desire to assist the other.

Whether David really cared about this client – and he assures me that he did – is a moot-point. His behaviour showed that he cared enough to go back to his office, think about the problem troubling his client, and help out as best he could. This willingness to care is a pre-requisite of seduction, but it only works – ironically – when it does not come across as self-sacrifice or a betrayal of the sellers’ interests.

When a person ‘cares too much’ or appears to be acting against their own interests, it has the reverse effect because the impression created is that a person ‘looks desperate’. Drawing on the advice of Derek Vitalio again, but adapting

it for both genders, let us look at why people are not seduced into commitments by someone who is overgenerous:

Somewhere along the way you systematically rewarded them for bad behaviour. You are rewarding them for spoiled, rotten, moody, cold behaviour. This loses their respect. Or perhaps you got into a relationship with a person spoiled by others and you are continuing their rotten education. How did you get stuck in this tragic situation in the first place? You caved into every whim no matter how inconvenient it was to you.40

There is an irony here – a person’s seductive skills are strongest when they are not too generous, even if that means sometimes being forceful, assertive (and maybe even angry) with another when they make demands. The issue here is not that you resort to bullying, rather that you show your commitment to equity, a balance of power, and that you will neither take the other party for granted or be taken for granted by them.

There is one word of caution, however. Any person habitually used to getting their way is likely to get angry or distressed if you resist their demands. However, it is inadvisable to reward their behaviour by ‘caving in’ until they acknowledge and listen to your point of view!

What Happens if the Seduction Fails?

Sometimes, the reality of the workplace hits home. Managers have limited time and cannot give equal amounts of attention to all. This means that – in a company organised hierarchically – managers are selective in the attention and support they give their staff. Even if a manager is trying to be fair, it may not be perceived by those who feel slighted and ignored.

The seduction may fail for reasons beyond managers’ control. Weekend working, seeing people get sacked, workers talking to friends who want to leave or who have seen people hurt by the selective attention of those “in power”, failing to get a pay rise that was perceived as a

promise – all these experiences reinforce that there is a pecking order determined by senior staff.Decisions are perceived as top-down rather than bottom-up. Except in those rare organisations that allow staff to elect and subject their own leaders to critical questioning – and sometimes even then – the reality of organisational life is that hierarchies develop in response to top-down appointments and the time pressures on managers. Emotions are activated and then crushed by the lack of time (or lack of desire) to accommodate others’ perspectives.

At Custom Products, one person anonymously sent me their response to a staff satisfaction survey complaining that after two years of exceeding their targets they had not received either a pay rise or promotion that recognised their contribution. They gave directors 2 out of 10 on a number of questions, but 8 out of 10 to their immediate line manager. The tales of people like these – and there were several from different parts of the company – were characterised by an increasing fear of managers, alienation, emotional distress, despair and the “oppression” typically associated with totalitarian states.

After 5 years of continuous ‘temporary’ employment, one women who failed an interview for a permanent position said “I just don’t know what they want from me”. Others resented having to attend an interview at all after several years of working for the organisation. In this case, she gave up and got employment elsewhere. Those marginalized talked of ‘spies’, ‘politburos’ and ‘communist’ behaviour where you could not trust even your friends and close work colleagues to keep confidences.

The contractual obligation to be ‘open and honest’ worked in managers’ favour. Staff were often too scared – if challenged – to withhold the nature of private conversations for fear of losing their job. At the same time, senior managers would not allow their own motives to be debated openly and honestly when I sought to investigate controversial conflicts. The “open and honest” requirement theoretically applied to all staff. In practice, it was strongly influenced by power relations linked to hierarchical line management.


The Paradox of ‘Caring’

What sort of effect does a well planned seduction have on employees? This is how I described my feelings after working at Custom Products for two months.

If the way that I’m feeling now is anything to go by, the way that people are perceiving me and the way that people are reacting to me, it is changing my view of myself. Not only can I see what a wide range of skills and contributions I can make… (pause) but I just like myself more (long pause)…(tearfully)…and that is so good.

After 9 months, at the point I left Custom Products to start micro-analysing the data I had collected, the tone of my reflections had changed somewhat:

I found the place more oppressive than I expected. There was not a live and let live approach. This was shown by the smoking issues and also with regard to sexual conduct, partly of women, particularly of men. I saw inconsistencies in the way peers/managers regarded flirting. The tendency was toward oppression when the organisation wanted to get someone out. They upheld values with rigour but occasionally that offended my sense of fairness. I accept comments that sometimes people mistake having a voice for getting their way. Even so, the control was quite strong and while disagreement is tolerated, resolution must be achieved through the structures that are set up for it. The problem is, of course, that using those structures almost certainly guarantees that managers get their way.

After 18 months, having reviewed all the data, I was surprised at the number of conflicts recorded and how explosive these could be. Sometimes, they were rooted in a genuine disagreement over values – such as the refusal of the company to confirm the permanent appointment of a “disabled” person41. Other disagreements erupted over petty issues like who was invited to a drink, how and where smokers could smoke, or banter about attractiveness (see page 212).


Custom Products was a text book example of an organisation that sets out to be ‘caring’ without pandering to employees’ every whim. This led to a peculiar paradox. Alongside a swathe of incoming and recent recruits enthused by the “caring culture” there was a core of cynical long-timers who had learnt that senior staff “treat us like children if we try to say anything against the culture”.

Company documents claim the organisation exists “primarily in order to enhance the lives of all those employed within it…[and]… strives to go beyond the notion of simply a means of survival”42. I found many staff who said their sense of well-being improved by working amongst people who wanted (and were willing to be) supportive friends – this played a part in transforming their lives. For others who felt manipulated or let down by the promise of self-fulfilment, respect and care, it was a different story. Often they made personal sacrifices, and gave contributions well beyond the norm, only for their efforts to go unnoticed or unrewarded. A picture of ‘well-being’ surfaced in analysis of staff turnover that showed the numbers of leavers was at least twice (and perhaps as much as four times) higher than expected.43

Corporations are well equipped to apply scientific knowledge about seduction to their employees – they may, as was the case at Custom Products, employ psychologists to help them with this. If sincere, and the results are perceived as equitable to all parties, it works. But beware the manager, or executive group, that engages in this type of behaviour without really loving their workforce (or who deludes themself that they do). It will be found out, typically through management behaviours and unfilled expectations rather than words and deliberate acts of malice. It can trigger – gradually, or explosively – reactions characteristic of lovers who feel betrayed or cheated.

Management Knowledge and Seduction

In reviewing this chapter with my wife, Caroline, we discussed the nature and morality of seduction. Is seduction a euphemism for manipulation or a way of

behaving that helps people release themselves from their inhibitions? My wife’s initial view – and the view that is probably understood by most people – is that ‘seduction’ is a process by which someone’s desires are altered quickly by an irresistible force. The implicit suggestion is that the seducer leads people astray using deception, inducing them to get into bed (or buy a product) by applying emotional pressure.If you scan the bookshelves of Waterstones or the on-line shelves of Amazon.co.uk, there will be an array of self-help books that advise you how to magically transform yourself so that you can “win friends and influence” or “make anyone fall in love with you” or become a “highly effective manager”. These books occasionally provide useful insights to those whoalready attract people but cannot “close the deal”.

But – and it is quite a big but – the advice is usually more useful to the party goer looking for a casual relationship or the salesperson looking to close the easy sale. While they might help with stage 4 – the end-game where two parties take pleasure in games that precede an expected union – it does nothing to help understand stages 1 to 3 that help get them to that position. As Caroline and I talked, we came to a more considered perspective that sees seduction as an ongoing process by which two people increase the level of intimacy until they feel confident enough to make an emotional commitment.

Having made that commitment, stages 3 and 4 of seduction can be replayed as often as required to maintain a healthy, stimulating and interesting relationship. Or they may never be played again, if that is what one or other party wishes. This perspective on seduction makes clear why behaviours are similar in different contexts. We also use sexuality, and seductive behaviours, to find and keep good employees, win and keep customers, get preferential treatment from suppliers, develop business contacts, and develop lifelong friendships.

It made me realise why I get so annoyed when I see stories in the press claiming “I was seduced by X into doing

Y”. Seduction is not always wicked and nasty, used only by the calculative and selfish to meet ‘depraved sexual perversions’. Seduction can be seen as a process of mutual learning, an emotionally fulfilling and deeply honest process that helps people conquer their fears. In the process, they gain the confidence to reveal their thoughts and feelings in a safe and secure environment. It can also be an experience that brings lasting emotional benefits, good health and efficient social organisation.This updated view of seduction offers possibilities to managers and staff alike – within peer-groups particularly – but also in organisations seeking to develop democratic know-how. The promotion of intimacy becomes a guiding principle that governs the development of social processes (e.g. marketing, selling, grievance handling and staff development). It can also inform governance processes and constitutional structures.

Let me round off the chapter by putting some propositions to you that we can carry forward into the rest of the book.


The evidence in this chapter suggests the following:

  • Seduction is promoted by a caring attitude, preparedness to make commitments, attractive presentation and honesty.
  • Seduction, underpinned by honest intent, underpins activities that are socially (or economically) beneficial to both parties.
  • Trust and respect increase if oriented toward a long-term committed relationship, or a mutual short-term goal.
  • Trust and respect decrease if the outcome is not equitable.

Seduction involves continually broaching new subjects to develop the relationship. The result is flirting:


  • Flirting can be enjoyable and productive, if both parties understand each others’ character, boundaries and intentions.
  • Flirting can trigger explosive conflict, if parties do not understand each others’ character, boundaries or intentions.
  • Flirting is itself a process by which two parties establish each others’ boundaries and intentions.

There is a circular relationship, therefore, between the ability to flirt and ability to establish social boundaries and intentions. I will return this in chapters 5 and 6, but in the next chapter, I consider the impact of relationship failure on social control and the motives for disciplining. I consider how those who feel hurt when a seduction fails start to discipline others as a punishment. Discipline does not just occur between managers and workers – it also occurs within peer-groups, sexual partners, same sex groups, as well as customers and suppliers. Nor is disciplining seen as a way for those who are ‘right’ to control those who are ‘wrong’. It is viewed as a way that one person, or social group, disrupts potentially threatening relationships, or suppresses debate that is potentially harmful to its own interests.

Notes on Chapter 3

1 Friedan, B. (1963) The Feminine Mystique, Penguin, Chapter 11. See also two major surveys in India Today (2004) in which men and women report roughly equal interest in sex, and sexual satisfaction, and equal interest in satisfying their partner.

2 Lowndes, L. (2002) How to Make Anyone Fall in Love with You, Element. Based on academic research by Moore, M. (1985) ‘Nonverbal Courtship Patterns in Women: Contact and Consequences’, Ethnology and Sociobiology, 6(237–247) and Perper, T. (1985) Sex Signals: The Biology of Love, ISI Press. See also Pease, A., Pease, B. (2004), The Definitive Book of Body Language, Orion, p. 290.

3 Farrell, W. (1988) Why Men Are the Way They Are: The Definitive Guide to Love, Sex and Intimacy, Bantam Books, pp. 150–185.

4 Muehlenhard, C. L., Cook, S. W. (1988) “Men’s Self Reports of Unwanted Sexual Activity,” Journal of Sex Research, Vol 2, pp. 58–72. The study was conducted to compare men’s self-reports with those of women found in an earlier study. The comparison’s showed that 98% of women v 94% of men reported unwanted sexual attention, while 46% of women and 63% of men reported unwanted sexual intercourse. The original report based on women’s responses prompted the radical feminist claim that “all men are rapists, or potential rapists”. By the same standard, more women than men would be regarded as rapists.

5 Friedan, B. (1963) The Feminine Mystique, Penguin Books, Chapter 11 deals with the phenomenon. On page 230 she claims that after 1950 sex-stories in women’s fiction and magazines outnumbered those in men’s magazines (without providing much “hard” data, it should be noted).

6 Farrell, W. (2000) Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say, pp. 194–195. Harlequin changed its romance formula after discovering that 70% of readers had jobs. The result? A 20,000% increase in profitability over 10 years with nett revenues up from $110,000 to $21m and an 80% market share. Exact sources are provided in the original text. Further evidence comes from the success of Bridget Jones Diary.

7 On-line registrations based on statistics available from FaceParty.com in 2003. Comments on personal ads based on examination of a local paper over a 3 year period to repeatedly check the balance between men and women seeking romance. Without fail, there are around 5 columns of ads from women seeking men, and 3 columns from men seeking women, and occasional ads from lesbians and gays.


8 Farrell, W. (1988) Why Men Are The Way They Are, Bantam Books, p. 13.

9 Buss, D. M. (2002) “Human Mating Strategies”, Samdunfsokonemen, 4 – 2002: 48–58. This paper contains a brief discussion of the material gains that women consistently seek from ‘short-term’ mating activities as well as a review of earlier research showing that women across 37 cultures value the material wealth of men twice as much as men value the material wealth of women. See also Smith, Amelia (2005), Girls Just Want to Marry and Stay HomeUK Men’s Movement Magazine: February 2005, p. 33. She states: “According to a survey of 5,000 plus teenage girls in Britain, their main ambition is to complete university then return to the homestead – whether their partners like it or not. More than nine out of 10 of the girls believe it should be up to their husbands to provide for them, with 97% disagreeing with the statement ‘It doesn’t matter who is the main earner, as long as we are happy’.”

10 Winston, R. (2003) Human Instinct, Bantam Books.

11 E-mail monitor conducted 21/12/2007 – 27/12/2007 following publication of the book. In this one week period, the author received 78unsolicited offers from women promoting their pornography, four e-mails from complete strangers asking for a ‘date’ and one unsolicited offer from a prostitute. Projected for the year, this is 4,316 unsolicited offers by women to sell sex. These figures exclude offers made via MySpace pages, Bebo and FaceBook. In addition, there were nine offers of a penis enlarger, 30 offers of viagra and two adverts for sex toys. Added to the offers from women, this increases unsolicited emails about sex (projected for 12 months) to 6,448 each year.

12 Clarke, R. D., Hatfield, E. (1989) “Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers”, Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 2(39–55).

13 Vilar, E. (1999) The Manipulated Man, Pinter & Martin, pp. 72–78.

14 Farrell, W. (1994) The Myth of Male Power, Berkley Books.

15 Molloy, J. (2003) Why Men Marry Some Women and Not Others, Element. See also Johnson, A. M., Mercer, C. H., Erans, B., Copas, A. J., McManus, S., Wellings, K., Fenton, K. A., Korovessis, C., Macdowell, W., Nanchahal, K., Purdon, S., Field, J. (2001), “Sexual behaviour in Britain: Partnerships, Practices, and HIV risk behaviours”, The Lancet, 358: 1835–1842 for a discussion of falling rates of marriage from 1990 to 2000.

16 Kakabadse, A., Kakabadse, N. (2004) Intimacy: International Survey of the Sex Lives of People at Work, Palgrave.


17 Pease, A., Pease, B. (2004), The Definitive Book of Body Language, Orion.

18 Allen, R. (ed) (1993) Oxford Concise Dictionary, BCA, p. 1093.

19 Lowndes, N. (2002) How To Make Anyone Fall In Love With You, Element. See also, Vitalio, D. (2005) Seduction Science, www.seductionscience.com.

20 Based on Vitalio, D. (2005) Be Your Woman’s Hero, not Wuss: Part 1, internet newsletter 21st April 2005.

21 Special section “How to Attract Men Like Crazy,” Cosmopolitan, February 1989, article titled “How to Make an Impact on a Man”, p. 177. For an extensive discussion of the messages communicated to men about women’s values in women’s magazine, see Farrell, W. (1986) Why Men Are The Way They Are, Bantam Books, Chapter 2 (“What Women Want: The Message the Man Hears”), pp. 24–90. In a wide-ranging discussion of hidden media messages, often focussed on advertising, Farrell illustrates that even in magazines that make claims to be written for ‘working’ women such asMs., the majority of adverts are for beauty products (e.g. the ironic “face up to your new responsibilities… beautifully” advertising a new range of cosmetics) or expensive gifts for women that men are expected to buy (e.g. “is two months’ salary too much to spend for something that lasts a lifetime” accompanying a picture of a man giving a woman a diamond ring). In magazines such as Working Woman there were sometimes no articles on work. Farrell comments “I assumed Ms. would feature other gifts women could give to men….[but] not one full-page ad for one gift a woman could give a man appeared in any Ms. Magazine for all nineteen issues – including two Christmas issues.”, p. 27.

22 Aronson, E. (2003) The Social Animal, Ninth Edition, New York: Worth Publishers, Chapter 8.

23 Berne, E. (1963) Games People Play, Penguin. See Chapter 9 for a description of sexual games, including those involving deliberate seduction with malicious intent.

24 Molloy, J. (2003) Why Men Marry Some Women and Not Others, Element, pp. 36–38.

25 Allen, R. (ed.) (1993) Oxford Concise Dictionary, BCA, p. 622. All discussion here is based on definitions in this particular dictionary.

26 See Dalton, M. (1959) Men Who Manage, John Wiley & Sons, Chapter 11. Melvin Dalton’s “Appendix on Methods” discusses the way that he

develops his network of “intimates” in his classic study about management processes.27 Willmott, H. (1993), “Strength is ignorance; slavery is freedom: managing culture in modern organisations”, Journal of Management Studies, 30(4): 515–552.

28 Peters, T., Waterman, R. H. (1982) In Search of Excellence, Profile Books, p. 60.

29 ibid, p. 238.

30 Whyte, W. F., Whyte, K. K. (1991) Making Mondragon, New York: ILR Press/Ithaca. See also Morrison, R. (1991) We Build the Road as We Travel, New Society Publishers. In a non-cooperative context, John Collins describes similar social organisation and results through the surplus sharing arrangements at Nucor – one of 11 ‘great’ companies listed on the US stock exchange.

31 Kasmir, S. (1996) The Myth of Mondragon, State University of New York Press. See also Cheney, G. (1999) Values at Work, ILR Press/Cornell University Press.

32 Petty, R., Cacciopo, J. (1986) “The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion” in L. Berkowitz (ed), Advances in experimental social psychology, Hillsdale: Erlbaum.

33 Aronson, E. (2003) The Social Animal, Ninth Edition, New York: Worth Publishers.

34 Lowndes, L. (1996) How to Make Anyone Fall in Love with You, London: Element.

35 Over 15 years I have seen this repeatedly from both sides. As a consultant, I helped organisations purchase new software systems. As a software supplier, if not a preferred supplier, we might decline the tender (if busy) or submit a tender (if trade was slow). Supply/demand, as well as the reputation of the other party, determines the attitude of the supplier to the customer as much as the process adopted for procurement. Similar dynamics work in recruitment.

36 Duberley, E. (2005), Brief Encounters: A Woman’s Guide to Casual Sex, Fusion Press, p. 135.

37 This claim is rooted in a trade unionist perspective that staff were firstly exploited when the surplus value of their labour was retained (as

profits or reserves), then again by the proposals that would leave staff with debts that would have to be paid back out of future surplus value.38 Mintel (2002) Selling To, and Profiting From, the Sophisticated Consumer, UK – December 2002, Mintel International Group Ltd. One section in the report reveals that more people now viewed men as the underdogs in advertising. Another identifies viewer responses to different levels of sexual suggestion.

39 “Blond Ambition: Leggy Lawyer Poses, Profits,” ABA Journal, Vol. 82, p. 12. For further details see Farrell, W. (2005) Why Men Earn More, Amacom, Chapter 12.

40 Vitalio, D. (2005) Recognising When You Are Pussy-Whipped, Internet newsletter, 12th April 2005.

41 The person had a learning disability, but was a member of the business unit that had produced the best financial results, and lowest wastage, in the company. As a consequence, his work colleagues felt he should be made a permanent member of staff. Diane and John, however, overruled them and he left the company, along with one person who felt so strongly that they publicly criticised the directors for the decision.

42 Internal company document on management culture and philosophy, published and copyrighted in 2000.

43 Ridley-Duff R. J. (2005) Communitarian Perspectives on Communitarian Governance, Sheffield Hallam University, Chapter 5.,http://www.scribd.com/doc/3271344/. Compared to industry norms and taking into account the qualifications and investment in CIPD trained human resources staff, the level of staff turnover was thought to be at least twice as high, and perhaps as much as four times as high as might normally be expected in a comparable company.

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