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Do You Have the 9 Traits of an Effective Flirt?

Attracting attention is a science as much as an art.

Key points

  • Flirting is a skill. You can flirt better if you know what to look for.
  • Non-verbal behaviors are as important to flirting success as what you say
  • Successful flirts build connection and take a gentle approach
  • Don't lay it all out on the table: successful flirts keep people wanting more

We've all seen what "good flirting" looks like, and you've probably seen some "bad flirting" in action, too. Sometimes the distinctions are quite obvious, but other times the line between flirting wins and flirting fails is sometimes hard to pinpoint until you've crossed it. How can you be a "better" flirt?

Relationship scientists have reason to care about flirting. Flirting is a subtle, often safe, signal of potential interest; it's the earliest of relationship stages, so early that—if the interaction fails to end with mutual interest—it kills relationships before they start.

Because flirting is an opening gambit, it can allow someone to reveal their attractive qualities, a step that is critical for effective flirting. Indeed, effective flirting not only reveals attractive qualities, but it elicits a positive, receptive response. In other words, flirting, when it works, breeds interest and attraction.

Which Traits Make Flirting Effective?

Recent research surveyed more than 1,200 participants over two studies to try to identify the characteristics of an effective flirt (Apostolou & Christoforou, 2020). Here's what they found.

In order of importance, effective flirts do the following:

  1. Use appropriate non-verbal behaviors. People communicate a good deal of information non-verbally; this is especially important in initial impression making. Even with smooth conversation, off-putting non-verbals can signal the end of relationship initiation. Effective nonverbal behavior includes the right amount of eye contact (not too much! not too little!), smelling good, and smiling.
  2. Show their intelligence. Successful flirts demonstrate their intelligence. Intelligence is a highly desirable trait, and it can be communicated with humor, wit, education, and interesting conversation. People, especially women, are more inclined to be attracted to flirts who show their intelligence.
  3. Take a gentle approach. Move too fast and you're in trouble. People generally found themselves most responsive to respectful, mature, and polite flirting. Women value this trait of a flirt more than men.
  4. Show their cheerfulness. Cheerful flirts are successful flirts. When people show their easy-going nature and positivity, they tend to be more successful at relationship initiation than less cheerful flirts. A key role of romantic relationships is companionship and fun; the attractiveness of cheerfulness may tap into this feature of relationship functioning.
  5. Make clear their romantic intent. Flirting that suggests romantic interest appears to be key; showing sweetness, tenderness, and strong interest is one way that differentiates flirting that works from flirting that doesn't. Women value flirtation that shows strong interest in them more than men.
  6. Show courage and determination. If you're bold, confident, and persistent, you may have more success in your flirting. Women in particular report that they're more susceptible to flirts with these traits. Perhaps the courage and persistence help highlight the focus of the flirting; it feels good to think that someone isn't just flirting with anyone, but specifically with you.
  7. Identify what they have in common with their target. Much research backs the idea that similarity breeds liking, so flirts who have some baseline similarities with the person with whom they're flirting may have more success. Shared interests and commonalities not only help the conversation flow, but also suggest the potential for future enjoyable conversations and interactions.
  8. Present as physically attractive. No surprise here. Physical attractiveness is a major factor that predicts initial romantic attraction (though other factors are also important in the unfolding of romantic interest, such as similarity, kindness, or familiarity) is, so it makes sense that people (men in particular) are more apt to respond to the flirtations offered by an attractive person. Flirting sparks more interest when the flirt is well-dressed, attractive, and charming.
  9. Give off a mysterious allure. People are drawn towards people they want to know more about; perhaps this is why flirts who have a bit of mystery about them tend to have more success. When flirting includes the suggestion of interesting hobbies or uniqueness, it may lead to more success.

The best flirting, it seems, has a number of key dimensions. Men who approach flirting confidently and cheerfully, and show a strong interest specifically in the person they're speaking to, while also maintaining good eye contact, are likely setting themselves up for success. Throw in interesting conversation and shared interests, and the flirting could be all the more effective. Women who flirt benefit from strong nonverbal and communication skills, but also attract attention through their physical appearance.

This study did not include the sexual orientations of their participants; however, there's good reason to expect that the principles outlined above apply to connections among same-sex individuals and different-sex individuals. Women flirting with women can consider the flirtation traits that are most effective in attracting women's attention; and men flirting with men might emphasize their appearance, a key factor for men linked to flirtation success.

In the uncertain and intimidating world of relationship initiation, knowing what to focus on can help. Consider the above features of successful flirting before giving it your next go: it could make a difference.

Facebook image: antoniodiaz/Shutterstock


Apostolou, M., & Christoforou, C. (2020). The art of flirting: What are the traits that make it effective?. Personality and Individual Differences, 158, Advanced online publication.

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