When Work Involves Socializing
Knowing What's Appropriate... and What's Not
Drink in moderation at office parties.
Imagine that it's your company's annual
holiday party. The lighting is soft, the music is loud, and
everyone is having a good time. However, a few of your team
members are having a little TOO much fun. Their group is the
loudest in the room, and they've all had more than a few drinks.
One person on your team is especially drunk – he's walking
unsteadily around the room, making rude and inappropriate jokes,
and offending almost everyone he comes near. Before tonight, you
had been secretly considering him for a promotion. But now, after
seeing his behavior, you're thinking about taking him off your
list. After all, if he can't handle himself at a holiday party,
could he handle the promotion? You think not.
Have you ever watched others behave inappropriately at company functions– or, perhaps,
have you ever done something you wish you hadn't?
Business socializing – with your colleagues, clients, or boss –
has different rules from socializing with friends and family. Many
people, however, treat the two situations in the same way. Not
only is this a mistake, but it can lead to negative consequences
for your career.
In this article, we review a few of the most common business socializing
situations, and offer some tips to help you have a good time
with ease and confidence.
Socializing with Clients
Most social situations with clients include a meal. The
traditional 'business lunch' is a way to develop relationships,
win future contracts, and gain referrals. But it takes
strategy and planning for your meeting to be successful.
- Choose the location carefully. Many people choose a place
randomly, but this can be a big mistake. If the restaurant is
especially noisy, or if your clients have to drive a long way,
then they're not going to be impressed. Select a location
that's close to your client, has easy parking, and offers a quiet
atmosphere. Also, choose a restaurant where the food and service
are consistently good.
- Make your clients comfortable. It's important for your clients
to feel at ease from the beginning, so make sure they know who's
paying the bill. If you're the host and you issued the invitation,
then you should pay. To avoid confusion, tell your clients up
front that they're your guests.
- Also, tell the clients what you plan to order before the waiter or
waitress returns to the table. Your guests may feel uncomfortable
if they order an expensive steak, and you choose only salad and soup.
- Spend appropriately. Remember that your boss will probably
review how much you spend on the client – and compare it with how
much you can reasonably expect to gain from developing the
- For instance, if your clients have a lot of potential business for
you, taking them to an expensive restaurant for dinner would be
appropriate, because your rate of return could be high. However,
if the clients can potentially give you only one or two small
contracts, then a moderate lunch might be more suitable.
- A general rule is to make sure that the amount you spend on clients is proportional to
what you expect to earn from socializing with them.
Socializing with Your Boss
This has an entirely different set of challenges. After-work
socializing with your boss can be a great way to get some
one-to-one time in a relaxed environment. On the other hand, it's
easy to go from being friendly… to being too friendly. If that's the case, how do
you know the difference?
- Remember that this is business. Spending time with your boss is
always about work. No matter how well the two of you get along, he
or she is still your boss. Don't forget the lines of authority, or
expect special treatment.
- Relax... but not too much. This might be your boss's chance to get
to know you better in order to give you a promotion or additional
responsibilities. Be yourself, but don't relax so much that you
say or do something you'll regret tomorrow. Dress appropriately,
and be respectful.
- Don't have unreasonable expectations. Just because the two of
you have a great time playing golf, this doesn't mean you will automatically get the promotion you want. If you think
about it, would you really continue to respect your boss if his
judgment could be influenced so easily? And don't put your boss in
an embarrassing position by asking for a raise or promotion while
you're socializing. Talking about work is fine (especially if your
boss is the one to bring it up), but leave such requests for an
appropriate time at the office.
Socializing with Co-workers
This is where people tend to make their biggest mistakes.
Socializing with co-workers is definitely easier than with clients
or your boss, so some people aren't cautious enough – and they get
a little too noisy or drunk at company events. You may feel more
comfortable with your co-workers, but this doesn't mean you
can let go of all self-control. You still have to maintain your
reputation and keep the respect of others.
- Keep your conversation appropriate. Don't tell jokes at a party
that you would never tell in the office. Offending your team
members may make them uncomfortable, and could hurt their feelings. And
that's something they may not forget anytime soon.
- Limit your alcohol. Quite simply, don't drink too much. Walking
around in an unsteady manner while laughing loudly will definitely
get you noticed – but probably not in the positive way you'd like.
Think of how unappealing other co-workers are when they're drunk.
This should be enough to keep you away from the bar.
- Business etiquette experts recommend eating something before
you go to an event. You never know how much food will be served,
and you don't want to be the only one piling a lot of food onto
your plate. And, of course, eating beforehand will help stop that first drink
from affecting you as much.
- Discuss nonwork topics. Aim to keep the conversation away from
business. Get to know your team – ask them about their hobbies,
families, and interests. Talking about the report you just wrote,
or discussing your recent promotion, can be not only boring, but also annoying.
- Spend time with new people. Company events are a way to get to
know colleagues and bond as a group. But resist the temptation to
talk with only your regular circle of co-workers. Move
around and get to know people from other departments. Chances are
high that your boss is watching – so if you're seen with several
different people, this could reflect positively on your abilities
as a communicator.
Socializing at Conferences
Conferences are a wonderful way to make valuable contacts. This is
why being on your best behavior is so vital.
- Keep your drink or plate in your left hand. This frees your
right hand to shake hands as you meet new people. Plus, your hand
won't be cold or wet because you were just holding a glass, which
can leave a bad impression.
- Don't be the first to arrive, or the last to leave. It's usually
best to leave while the event is still going strong. If you're not
sure when to go home, watch an executive you admire. When she
leaves, follow her example.
- Be a listener, not a talker. Most people feel special when
someone really listens to what they say. If you're the one doing
all the talking, people may perceive you as selfish and
self-centered. So listen first, and talk second.
Planning an Event
If you're in charge of planning an event with clients or team
members, choose an activity that everyone will enjoy.
For instance, if you love hiking and climbing, that doesn't mean
the entire office would be happy to spend a day outdoors. And your
passion for classical music doesn't mean that your clients would
enjoy the opera.
Choose something you think your clients or co-workers would
love – and make sure you don't put people in a situation where
they might feel uncomfortable. Select the setting and location
with care, and remember your overall goals. If the event is meant
to strengthen ties within a department, then arrange an outing
that will allow people to get to know one another. If you're
attempting to win a key contract from a client, then choose an
activity and place that will allow you to talk seriously.
Planning an event can present an entirely new set of challenges.
If you'd like more information, see Planning a Workshop:
Organizing and Running a Successful Event.
Business socializing has its own set of rules and practices that are far different from socializing with friends and family. It's important to understand that no matter what you're doing, or with whom you're doing it, attending corporate events is still part of your work life. A good rule is not to do anything that you wouldn't do at the office during a regular work day. And use moderation in drinking, eating, and even talking.
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