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No-Flirt Zone

When someone flirts with you, don't get mad . . . get professional.

Your husband must be very proud of you." When Gilda Piccoli hears that phrase from a man, she knows exactly what's happening.

"He's flirting with me," says the 28-year-old owner of Warwick, Rhode Island, IDK Promotional Specialty Co., which imprints company logos on creative promotional products. "I run across this all the time. I do a lot of trade shows, and when I'm in the booth, men come up to me. They kind of beat around the bush, acting as if they're interested in the product. But they really want to know more about me--my background and whether I'm married."

Instead of getting angry and confrontational, Piccoli firmly steers the conversation back to business. And that's exactly what she should do, says Marina Grant, president of Grant Communications, which specializes in employment law and conflict resolution. When someone makes an improper comment, "You need to proceed in a professional way and show you're not shaken by his unprofessional behavior," says Grant.

You should also put the focus on his professional behavior and knowledge of the business at hand, as a signal to get back to business, Grant says. "It shows you're [ignoring] his unprofessional behavior," she explains. "Unless he's a complete louse, he'll stop."

Never point out the inappropriate behavior and become a combatant. Instead, follow Grant's advice for dealing with unprofessional behavior:

  • Ascertain whether the action is truly an improper advance. People from other cultures have different customs that could be misinterpreted.
  • If you're not sure whether the behavior is inappropriate, try to clarify what the person is doing. For instance, if the individual is touching his lips you could ask, "Do you want me to lower my voice?"
  • If someone brushes against you, apologize and say, "I didn't mean to bump you."
  • Try to acknowledge behavior that is appropriate and thank the person for his professional manner.
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This article was originally published in the July 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: No-Flirt Zone.

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