So you’ve been invited to an after-work happy hour. Perhaps it’s even a midday event, a little wine-and-cheese interlude in a conference room to boost morale. You might think that attendance is optional — after all, it’s not in your job description to spend unpaid time with your coworkers and risk getting tipsy in the company of your boss. You might even have skipped the last couple events and no one told you not to, so why even bother? But the truth is, by not going, you are missing out on valuable opportunities. For one thing, sharing social experiences with your coworkers can make it a lot easier to communicate about actual work. For another, if your supervisor is at the happy hour, this is one of the best chances you can get to make yourself noticed and make real gains in your career.
If the main reason you avoid office parties is discomfort with the idea of drinking with your colleagues, here are 10 tips that may just get you to that corner office. Pro tip: As with many things in life, it’s all about balance.
You’re off work now, so don’t be surprised if people start to loosen up, including your boss. You should do the same. Incidentally, if, like me, you suffer from a touch of social anxiety, a glass of something you enjoy goes a long way to smoothing the rough edges.
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But don’t relax too much
Loosen up, but bear in mind that you have to see these people at work tomorrow. Don’t overshare. Don’t bust out your ’90s dance moves. Don’t show people your scar or your tattoo. A good rule of thumb is to act about 50 percent as silly as your boss is acting. If other people are not following that rule, that’s THEIR problem — and trust me, they WILL regret it.
Don’t get drunk
By all means, enjoy a drink or two (or three, depending on your tolerance), but enjoy them very responsibly. If you feel your reflexes slowing, or if you hear yourself slur, switch to water for a round or two. You want to be relaxed, but still in control. (If you have trouble gauging how to get to that point, it is honestly worth investing the time to learn; this skill is useful in many situations.) No matter how hard-drinking the group is, everyone remembers that one person who puked on their shoes.
But don’t (obviously) teetotal
There are circumstances in which you may not want to drink; however, bear in mind that someone may either ask you why you are not drinking or, sometimes worse, come to their own conclusions. If you have a problem with alcohol that you don’t want to publicize, or if you are in the undisclosed stages of pregnancy, there are a couple of ways to blend in. For starters, if you have the option of ordering without anyone around, ask for a diluted cranberry juice in a highball glass with a twist of lime. No one will know it’s not vodka. If you are ordering publicly (and are able to consume tiny amounts of alcohol), ask for a cocktail with extra ice, and then consume it extremely slowly while keeping it in your hand the whole time; that will create the impression that you are drinking. Another option is to get a wine spritzer, which will make you look like a lightweight but not a weirdo. If all else fails, say that you are on a course of antibiotics that interacts badly with booze. You can also always be honest and say you can’t drink — but be prepared to explain why.
Resist the urge to talk shop…
I know that you barely know these people, and that you barely WANT to know them, and that you think you have nothing in common with them but work. But try to find something to talk about unrelated to your job. You may find that you have more in common than you thought. Plus, do YOU really want to talk about work? Neither does anyone else.
…Unless someone else starts it
If the conversation does turn to work, and especially if your boss is there, go ahead and say something thoughtful and impressive. Frankly, I would advise you to come up with a couple of useful sound bites ahead of time — observations that show that you care about your work and want to drive improvement at the company. Don’t try to shoehorn them in, but if the opportunity presents itself, you’ll be ready.
Just don’t. Even if you’re getting a vibe from someone. Just don’t. Nothing good has ever come of hooking up at a work party. (Maybe after the party. But even then, probably just don’t.)
Don’t be too honest
I know, it’s supposed to be all loose and easy and fun — and it can be. But don’t let the informal atmosphere trick you into revealing something that you wouldn’t be comfortable emailing to the company distro. If you belong to a cult, if you voted for Trump, if you are in a polyamorous relationship, you do you, Booboo, but if you weren’t planning on telling everyone, don’t whisper it to anyone. Not even if they confide something first.
But do open up about yourself
Do you have hobbies? Especially goofy ones, like competitive Scrabble? Have you been on a trip recently? Have you been on a trip EVER? Talk about it. It’s always entertaining to hear feel-good stories from other people, and it relieves everyone else of the burden of being the entertainer, and that makes everyone kind of love you.
Also, you know how they say that telling a murderer personal information supposedly makes them less likely to kill you because it humanizes you? Same thing with corporate downsizing.
Talk to everyone
Don’t spend the whole night sucking up to your boss. Don’t spend the whole night talking to the guy from the cubicle next to yours. Spend a little time talking to everyone. Ask them questions about themselves and really LISTEN (and try to retain the information). Circulate around the room. If it’s a sit-down thing, speak to people all around the table. Not only is it good for you to make connections with a diverse group of people, it also makes you look like a fun, awesome, friendly person. And by the way, if you look like a fun, awesome, friendly person? Chances are you pretty much just became one.