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updated 4/4/2011 7:36:09 AM ET 2011-04-04T11:36:09

With fluorescent mood lighting and keyboard tapping like the drums of a fertility dance, the workplace buzzes with sexuality. According to a survey by Career-Builder.com, 40 percent of workers polled admitted to having dated a colleague during their professional lives. Yet initiating an office romance isn't easy — particularly in the age of HR-enforced "love contracts" barring intra-office entanglements. Most of your co-workers probably aren't looking for love or even a roll in the supply closet. (Beware: A recent AOL Jobs Survey revealed that one in six people feel that they've been sexually harassed in the workplace.) Tread carefully when approaching a potential lovebird in the next cubicle. Here's our idiot-proof, workplace-safe, three-step guide for a lawsuit-free office pickup.

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Step 1: Ask questions
The key to a great pickup line is remembering that it's the beginning of a conversation, not an end. Neil Strauss, author of the bestselling come-on tome "The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists," suggests opening with a sincere open-ended question about a topic you're genuinely interested in. "A great line should be a springboard to a follow-up conversation," he says. "Ask questions like you're a radio show host and they're the guest." If you can't think of a question, Strauss suggests (seriously) asking someone if they floss before or after brushing. It's an instant conversation starter.

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Step 2: Be cool
Most people think an effective pickup line — in or out of the office — needs to be funny, but that reasoning often results in lines such as "I may not be Fred Flintstone, but I can make your bed rock." Even professional comedians know better. Stand-up comic Patton Oswalt says the pickup line he used on his wife wasn't clever or glib. He simply told her, "I think you're really pretty, and you're probably also cool. Give me your phone number, and then I'll call you and we'll go do something fun." That straightforward approach — "and the fact that I didn't look like a creepy psycho," Oswalt says — sealed the deal.

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Step 3: Be prepared for rejection
The love of your life may not be in the next cubicle. Roberta Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions in Northampton, Mass., says that if you're trying to date a co-worker, "maybe you've been spending a little too much time in the office." But if you're hellbent on making a move, remember it's an office, not a toga party. "Understand that 'no' means 'no,'" Matuson says, "and back off if your co-worker declines your invitation."

BusinessWeek: Romantic rejection may hurt just like physical pain

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