It seems sexist and contrary to what many would like to believe but women in business can get what they want with a bit of flirting, according to a new study by economists.

Flirtatiousness, female friendliness, or turning on the “feminine charm” is a method that works for women when negotiating, according to a new study by Haas School of Business Professor Laura Kray.

The study, “Feminine Charm: An Experimental Analysis of its Costs and Benefits in Negotiations,” was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“Women are uniquely confronted with a tradeoff in terms of being perceived as strong versus warm. Using feminine charm in negotiation is a technique that combines both,” says Kray.

Kray says that flirtation that works is not about overt sexual advances but “authentic, engaging behavior without serious intent.” The study found that such flirtation signals qualities such as confidence, which is considered essential in negotiating effectively.

Maybe that’s why Former U.S. Secreatry of State Madeleine Albright admitted to flirting on the job? Or what Melissa Mowbray-D’Arberla meant when she told us: Being a woman in business … sure you’re treated differently. So I decided ’embrace that’, use it to your advantage.”

But employment expert Chris Lawson told The Story Exchange that for women entrepreneurs the reality of “feminine charm” is something to be aware of vs. “flirting”. “I define flirting in business as using sex appeal to manipulate a situation to one’s advantage.  I do not believe a woman has to compromise her ethics to obtain her goals for success.”

Lawson adds that women who are friendly, charming and strong will be better off in the long run. “There is the use of “social charm” that many women have mastered which has led to an increase in success,” said Lawson, CEO of Eli Daniel Group, a staffing and recruitment firm.

In one of the study’s experiments, subjects were asked to imagine they were selling a car worth $1,200 and asked for what price they would get for the car. They then read one of two scenarios about a potential buyer named Sue.

The first group meets Sue, who shakes hands when she meets the seller, smiles, and says, “It’s a pleasure to meet you,.” and then “What’s your best price?” in a serious tone. The second group reads an alternate scenario in which Sue greets the seller by smiling warmly, looking the seller up and down, touching the seller’s arm, and saying, “You’re even more charming than over email,” followed by a playful wink and asking, “What’s your best price?”

The result? Male sellers were willing to give the “playful Sue” more than $100 off the selling price whereas they weren’t as willing to negotiate with the “serious Sue.” Playful Sue’s behavior did not affect female car sellers.

Kray says many senior women executives have admitted that they love to flirt and describe themselves as “big flirts.” She says flirting is not unprofessional if it remains playful and friendly.

“The key is to flirt with your own natural personality in mind. Be authentic. Have fun. That will translate into confidence, which is a strong predictor of negotiation performance,” Kray said.

But Lawson warns that certain tactics can backfire if the fine line becomes “overtly flirtatious” vs. being friendly or complimentary during any type of negotiations.

“If a woman tries too hard to use sex appeal for an advantage, some men might see through that and discount the potential credibility of her business savvy. Flirting might appear as the only tool in which she has to obtain an advantage.”

YOUR TURN: Have you ever used “flirting” to get ahead in business?