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A Thing

Letting your hair down in a businesslike way

Water Cooler Wisdom

A dinner lubricates business.

- Lord William Stowell

Water Cooler Quotes Archive

Business doesn't just happen in cubicles and conference rooms from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It also transpires at dinners celebrating the launch of new products, luncheons honoring professional achievements and milestones, parties celebrating holidays and birthdays, and other similar events.

While these gatherings are meant to be relaxed and pleasurable, we sometimes forget they are more business than social undertakings. So, keep the following tips in mind as you slice sushi for your company's next potluck or buy some bubbly for a colleague's birthday bash.

(While it's wise to avoid having one too many cocktails and monopolizing the karaoke machine at a company soir‚e, we will leave advice on how to lose a job in 10 days to another article.)

Go, go, go

First off, go. If you have been invited to a company picnic or awards dinner, you should attend.

One reason is for the networking opportunities such events afford. At a company party, for example, you can bend the ear of an executive you might not bump into in the office. At an industry dinner, you can chat with a colleague whom you might not otherwise meet.

Another reason to attend a company party is that your absence may be perceived as apathy or evidence that you lack team spirit.

And if you're a no-show for an industry event, people may think you're rude or cavalier. This could reflect poorly on you and your company.

So, you simply must show up. No excuses, unless you get bitten by a rattlesnake or abducted by Jessica Simpson.

Words to the wise

As you prepare for your firm's next holiday party or happy hour, don't become a fashion victim. You need to be presentable, of course, but most of your preparation should focus on the art of conversation.

You won't enhance your career or your company's standing if you spend an entire industry awards luncheon looking out the window or checking e-mail on your BlackBerry.

Focus on the other attendees. Listen to them; ask open-ended questions; try to make them comfortable. And, throw in a yarn or two of your own.

Before you arrive, consider who else will be attending. Will you be the sole representative of your company or product? Will you be the only person from your region? Will you be the most experienced person there? Will you be the most senior employee in attendance?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it's likely you will be seen as an authority. This increases the odds that someone will ask you for information about your company, your products or recent industry events. Ergo, know what you will say should someone ask you about these topics.

You may also need to come up with some bons mots to say to the entire group. You never know whom you'll meet and what they'll ask of you. So be prepared.

Smile, smile, smile

Most special business events are held outside of the office. A company picnic may be at a local park, or a holiday party may be at a hotel. Wherever you are, be aware of your surroundings, and remember that you are representing your company in public.

You should therefore refrain from disparaging your employer and its competition. You don't need to air dirty laundry in public.

Celebratory dinners, company picnics and the like are happy events. Don't ruin the mood by complaining about a recent event at work or lamenting a downturn in sales.

To make the most of what social business happenings offer, attend them, be prepared to answer questions and keep conversations light and entertaining. And remember, each minute of every unbuttoned business gathering you attend, you are on the clock.

Article published in issue number 060901

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