What is interesting about signal failure is that different cultures seems to have different version of the ailment. For instance, the British seem to find it particularly difficult to show interest in someone that they fancy. The Americans, on the other hand, tend to seem to be showing interest in everyone. Australians come across as just being friendly.
So what is all this signal stuff? The easiest way to understand it is that we are all walking around with a big traffic light over our head. For each person we see, the traffic light either shows
• Red – not interested
• Orange – maybe, get ready for action
• Green – I fancy you, come over and have a chat
The signals are given off through your body language – or, more specifically, through eye contact.
What is interesting is that eye contact is a subject that is mentioned by many flirt experts, but it is something that is mentioned in passing. Glibly they mention that if someone is interested, they will give you three seconds eye contact. Then they will look back a second time.
From my practical experience down in the trenches of the flirting war zone, eye contact is one of the biggest mine fields. The amount of eye contact that people give varies enormously, based on the city that you live in and the country where you are from. This then gives rise to an enormous amount of confusion. Women think they are giving a green light, and men are just not sure.
This whole issue really hit home to me running workshops on giving eye contact. I realised that this was crucial, because reading the material it said that three seconds of eye contact was a green light, but in the reality of London I found it was enormously difficult.
So at a singles night I gathered together 20 men and women. They were placed on either side of the room, and each were allocated a person to give their green light to. Just telling people how long is not enough – when I told the women 3 seconds, it looked to the men like it was 3 microseconds. What was amazing was that to the women it felt like it was ten minutes.
“Oh my god that felt weird”, “I must look like a crazy person”, “Now he knows I’m begging for it”, “That felt like ages and ages”. The comments from the women went on, just like this.
To this, the men responded: “That was really quick”, “I missed that”, “Was that a green light?”
What is really crucial is to get the timing exactly right.
We changed tack, and I got the women in the group to look across at the men and say in their head “You . . . are really fit”. Now, I have to admit that this is a particularly British saying. For Australians, to be fit just means you jog a lot and go to the gym. But of course, here it means attractive, gorgeous, hot etc, etc. My first attempts at “You are really hot” failed miserably as the women descended into fits of giggles.
Anyway, once the women started doing this and saying this so if felt like they were talking slowly in their heads – looking at the guy they fancied, catching his eye directly, saying (inside their head) “you are really gorgeous”, then looking away, suddenly everything changed.
“That is definitely a green light!”, “Oh Yeah” etc etc came from the men. So the issue is that timing is crucial. It can’t be too short, because men won’t realise that you are giving them a green light.
On the other hand, it can’t be too long. Historically eye contact is an extremely powerful body language signal. Researchers have found that people who are in love spend more than 70% of the time staring in each other’s eyes making direct eye contact. On the other side, between men, extended eye contact is a signal of aggression. Monkeys are the same, prolonged eye contact between males leads either to a) one male looking away and submitting or b) combat.
In a big city like London, essentially the most common people who make prolonged eye contact with you either want your money, or they want to sell something to you. Obviously when you are flirting you don’t want to come across as a money grabbing salesman.
For this reason, women often feel uncomfortable giving prolonged eye contact. However, what feels to them like a really long time, actually looks on the outside like a short time. In workshops, when women practice on each other rather than other men, the same pattern emerges. The woman giving the eye contact says “Oh that was ages”, and the woman receiving the eye contact says “That was really quick!”.
After much trying and testing, having women looking at men and saying “You are really fit” has proved to be the perfect balance between, long enough – so the men would see the green signal, and short enough so the woman didn’t look like a desperate money grabber.
To sum up:
- One of the most common flirting ailments is signal failure
- We give off flirting signals through our body language
- The amount of eye contact that women give various enormously
- To give a green signal, hold his eye contact and say ‘you are really fit!’ in your head. Then repeat.
- Eye contact shouldn’t be any longer than this or it could be perceived as intimidating or desperate