Last week after finishing up work on a massive project, my supervisor invited me and a bunch of colleagues out to the pub to celebrate. Not going to lie, I was pretty excited, and it totally was one of those ‘yeah! I’m an adult now!’ moments. And then I thought hmmm… this is definitely going to be different than a night at the pub with friends.
Obviously, at 25 years old I’ve had my fair share of bar nights. But going to the pub with coworkers, especially for more than a few drinks, is completely different territory. For starters, you definitely don’t want to get too tipsy and start over-sharing (especially when you’re still new to the company). But on the flip side, you don’t want to be Sober Sally in the corner who’s not participating and socializing with everyone else. So how do you find middle ground?
Luckily I had a few minutes to think about it (and yes, these are the sorts of things I think about. Weird? Perhaps…), and I came up with a few rules for myself that I figured would make the evening enjoyable, but something I could wake up to in the morning without cringing. Also, I really wanted to make a great impression on people, because I’m still only a contractor and there haven’t been any decisions made yet about my future long-term. Talk about pressure! Regardless, I wanted to have a good time after a slew of long days at the office, so I did my very best to stick to the following rules to keep myself in check. And you know what? I feel pretty good about how it all went down!
- Drink… slowly. As a general rule, I tried to have about a third of my drink left by the time most of the other girls had finished theirs. My goal was to definitely remain more sober than my managers, and just enjoy the conversation instead of the (free!) booze. Keeping in mind that this was more about socializing and developing non-project-related relationships with people, I focused instead on conversation. It was fun!
- Ask lots of questions. Ask people about themselves, their job, their experience, etc. and don’t just stick to work conversation! I tried to get a better sense of people and find out what they do outside of the office, where they’re from and things like that. It’s nice to be able to relate to people and their hobbies, and with flowing booze there’s no better time to get the conversation rolling.
- Dig deeper. We did talk a lot about the project and the company on pub night, which was good. A bit of shop-talk is alright, and as long as other people are chatting about it, use the opportunity to find out more about the company and the things they don’t tell you in your orientation packet. I felt pretty comfortable with everyone there, so I asked them about their experiences, what they like and dislike about the company, and even asked a little (light and quick) advice. It’s great to get a sense of things from a human perspective as opposed to a ‘my managers can all hear me so I’ll give you a generic answer‘ perspective. A bit of candid information is amazing.
- Remain on the periphery. I have this habit at parties when I’ve had a bit to drink where I just get really funny and entertaining (well, I think I’m entertaining…). I’ll tell ridiculous stories, silly rants, whatever. But this is noooot the time for that. This was a difficult thing for me, to remain kind of on the periphery. But seriously, let other people be the centre of attention. Unless you have a great story that people are literally begging you to tell, don’t. Use this time to observe relationships and attitudes, because it will seriously pay off back at work
- Do. not. gossip. I love me some gossip, I really do. I hate that I love it, but I can’t change it. It’s fine to listen to office gossip, maybe throw in a few ‘no way!’s, but whatever you do, do not participate. Don’t add any stories, don’t bring anything up, just keep it to yourself. This was tough for me too because I’ve had some frustrating moments over the last few months and I so badly wanted to know if other people could relate. But to me, it’s far more worth it to seem loyal and trustworthy, and you can’t be those things if you gossip.
I’m so glad I had a chance to go out and get to know some of my colleagues away from the office. It really does make me feel like I belong a bit more, and it makes work more enjoyable when I can make conversation in the lunchroom about more than just this week’s status reports. It’s nice to find common ground with people that I previously knew nothing about, and see possible friendships with the people around me. I definitely considered ditching everyone pretty early on Friday, but I knew deep down that I’d never make any progress in my work relationships if I took the easy way out. Saying yes to work events, even when they have so much potential to be awkward, is imperative. And as long as you set a few guidelines for yourself and remain cognizant of your surroundings, it’s one of those things that can really shape your career, no joke!