Jeffrey Hall, University of Kansas – Flirtatious Miscommunication

Jeff HallCan you easily tell when someone is flirting with you?

Jeffrey Hall, professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, is studying the nature of flirtation and the resultant miscommunication that occur.

Jeffrey Hall is an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas. He is the author of “The Five Flirting Styles: Use the Science of Flirting to Attract the Love You Really Want.”

Flirtatious Miscommunication


If you think someone isn’t interested in you, you are probably right — they aren’t.

But . . . if someone is interested, chances are you missed it.

In our research, we put pairs of college singles together in a room to meet and have a conversation. Then, they privately filled out a questionnaire. We asked if they had flirted and if they thought their partner had as well.

It appears that we usually get the hint when someone isn’t flirting with us – more than 80 percent of the people guessed that part correctly.

But, we are far less likely to detect when someone was interested. 36 percent of men guessed accurately and just 18 percent of women did.

You may be thinking, ahh, that proves it — men are better at detecting flirting than women.

We wondered that, too. In the second study, we had 280 people watch video clips of couples interacting from the first study. Then observers guessed if the couples were flirting or not.

Overall, both men and women had an easier time detecting flirting in women – and women observers were particularly good at it.

When it comes to flirting, it doesn’t appear that men have an intuition about women and women have an intuition about men. Women are just a little more clear if they are interested or not – and other women can tell.

So why are we so bad at detecting flirting? I think there are several reasons:

We don’t want to be obvious when flirting because we don’t want to be embarrassed if the other person isn’t interested in us.

Also, there aren’t a lot of second chances to improve your skills of detection. If you miss it and don’t flirt back, someone might think you just aren’t really interested and not try again.  

Our research revealed that flirting looks a lot like friendliness. People confused flirting with friendly a lot more than they confused friendly with flirting.

Finally, being bad at detecting flirting has some basis in reality. Unless you look like Ryan Gosling, most of the time no one is flirting with you. So, we aren’t looking for it.

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