There’s a lesson for all of us in the instructions the good doctor got last week.
ABC’s “The Good Doctor” is about a surgical resident with autism and savant syndrome. Dr. Shaun Murphy is brilliant about anatomy and has extraordinary intuition. Social skills, on the other hand? Not his strong suit.
He’s so opaque, in fact, he thinks his neighbor doesn’t like him.
His colleague Claire tries to straighten him out. The neighbor, she says, is flirting.
Seeing that Shaun is dubious, she explains and demonstrates: “Here’s what to look for. The pretentious giggle. The squirm. And the hair sweep. I call it the Flirting Trifecta.”
He may not know relationships, but Dr. Murphy does know his research. “Hair scuffing is used in both animals and humans, Claire,” he says. “Secreting glands are located in the scalp and the fur. Hair scuffing sends hormones out into the environment to let a potential mate know they’re interested.”
And this is why I tell my clients, “Keep your hands away from your hair.”
When you’re in a meeting, doing a presentation, even in a more casual conversation at work, people are reading those non-verbal cues. And when they see you fluffing, tossing or twirling your hair, it’s likely they see flirtation.
That goes for wiggling and weaving and head-tossing as you speak. (The Squirm) And for that little shrug-and-chuckle thing that might punctuate your conversation. (The Giggle)
People often pick up these signals at a non-conscious level. They don’t even know exactly what gave them the impression that you’re, um, interested in something beyond business. But they walk away thinking of you in ways that have little to do with your professional abilities.
Now the truth is, a little tee-hee might have nothing to do with feeling frisky. Nervous laughter is a common reaction to stress, embarrassment, confusion, or anxiety.
Haven’t you had the experience of feeling mortified about some misstep, and finding yourself giggling in response?
Likewise, a person might wiggle or fidget to discharge nervous energy; the movement is a release.
I ran into that with a client recently; she’d open her mouth to speak, and her whole upper body would weave as if she were trying to thread a gigantic needle with her head. She needed to practice sitting still if she wanted her colleagues to take her seriously.
And of course the same anxious impulse can lead to hair-flipping or fiddling or twirling.
A one-time colleague, as she was about to talk in a meeting, would push her hair behind both ears and flip the ends out. We’d see the same gesture repeated over and over. She prepared herself to participate in the discussion…by playing with her hair.
So, sometimes the Flirtation Trifecta really DOES signal sexual interest. Sometimes it’s just ants in your pants. Neither one serves you well in a professional setting.
Sexual energy. Or nervous energy. The common thread is energy run amok, creating impressions of you that you’d rather people didn’t have.
The antidote is not to squelch that energy or to make it go away. You need energy to connect with people you hope to influence; becoming flat or lifeless won’t help you make those connections. Instead, you’ll want to contain the energy.
When our movements are more purposeful, our gestures more deliberate and our speech more measured, we have so much more impact.
Save the Flirtation Trifecta for the time when you want to get something going with that cutie across the room. In a business situation, go for that sense of contained energy that conveys you’re a confident and credible professional.
And post a comment about your own experience…on the sending or receiving end of the Flirtation Trifecta.