You probably haven’t had anyone talk to you about your “behavior” since you were in elementary school—classroom expectations on colorful poster paper taped to the walls, teachers constantly reminding you to sit still, raise your hand, use your inside voice, and keep your hands to yourself.
I’m not saying you need to raise your hand before you ask a question. I do think, though, that too often we assume because we’re “adults” and have a “grown-up job,” we don’t have to think about the way we’re behaving or how it affects other people and our careers.
Behavior is more important than almost anything else I will talk about. It will change your career and it will impact your relationships. When was the last time you evaluated your behavior?
In my post from September, What is Good Behavior vs Bad Behavior in the Work Environment, I discussed good and bad practices in the context of several common workplace situations. Some settings can compromise our behavior more than others, which include: the infamous office party, sales kickoffs, work celebrations, and client dinners. The main reason? Alcohol—whether we like it or not, it can have a huge impact on the way we behave. In and of itself, alcohol isn’t bad; it’s only when we don’t establish and maintain boundaries that we risk losing control and engaging in inappropriate behavior, which can damage our reputation, relationships, and career.
Alcoholic beverages will be present at some events. That is a given. You should still be able to enjoy yourself, as well as engage with clients or executives. So how do you stay in control? Here are the boundaries I’ve implemented:
1. Never Get Drunk
It is never a good idea to get drunk. I have watched coworkers and clients intoxicate themselves and act in ways that were not only unsafe and shameful, but also could have ended in disaster for themselves or others.
I have seen people too intoxicated to find their hotel rooms, falling down in the middle of large ceremonies, and hooking up with married coworkers. Employees have completely missed meetings and presentations because they stayed out too late, or never actually made it to bed the night before. People have indirectly and directly lost their jobs because of out-of-control behavior.
2. Follow Company Policy
When in a work situation involving alcohol, stop and think before you order any drink, and take your first cue from your company culture and the behavior of your coworkers. Ask yourself the following sobering question:
Do successful employees, managers, and executives drink alcohol at company events?
If you want to be successful in your company and position, follow the lead of your successful peers and superiors.
3. Know Your Limits
Take your second cue from your own boundaries and background.
How does alcohol affect you? Does one drink make you giggly? Do two drinks result in slurred words, lowered guard, and excessive chatter? Does alcohol make you sick or give you an upset stomach?
Know your personal limits and decide how much you’ll drink over a specific time frame, and stick to it. Remember, this is not the same limit you’d set for girls’ night out.
4. Pace Yourself
If you decide to drink, sip—don’t guzzle. Pace yourself, it’s not a race.
Eat before the event and again during happy hour (peanuts and tapas can be your best friend). Nothing is worse than alcohol splashing around in an empty stomach. Also remember to drink water and stay hydrated.
5. Never Pressure Others
Don’t ever push alcohol on others. Believe your client or colleague when they say they’ve had enough, and don’t order another round without asking them first.
6. Engage—Even if You Don’t Drink
Even if you choose not to drink, still participate in the event. You can opt out of drinking for personal, religious, or health reasons, but help others around you feel comfortable having a drink themselves by saying, “No thanks, I’m not a big wine/beer/liquor drinker, but please, go right ahead,” and continue to engage in the conversation.
7. Remember Your Goals
Remember, fun is not your primary objective. Never make the mistake of thinking a work-sponsored happy hour is a chance to “let loose” and “blow off some steam.” Enjoy yourself, but don’t treat it like a get-together with your buddies. Remember: supervisors, bosses, and clients will be there observing your behavior.
8. Focus on the Client
Client dinners are great opportunities to build relationships with clients. In a relaxed dinner environment, you can learn information that may help you become more aware of the client’s expectations and goals. Focusing on the client and engaging in conversation can make the client more comfortable and help strengthen the relationship. Alcohol can inhibit your ability to concentrate and connect, and if you lose control, even damage your relationship with the client.
9. Leave Inappropriate Situations
There is always the potential to find yourself in an uncomfortable position, whether it is with your peers, clients, or executives in the company. If the person you are with consumes alcohol, their behavior may become discomforting. If you don’t know what to do and you’re uncomfortable, make an excuse to leave, or have a friend call you to give you an opportunity to exit.
The important thing about these situations is that you are comfortable in your decision to stay or leave—making this decision can sometimes be harder than you think. In a client situation, you don’t want to offend them, but you should never continue in a position that makes you uncomfortable.
10. Don’t Drink
Finally, remember that you never have to drink—“no” is always an option. Respect your own boundaries and limitations, and if you know you have the tendency to lose control or engage in inappropriate office behavior when you drink, then politely abstain. Even if you’re only uncertain of what you’re comfortable with, don’t use this as an opportunity to experiment and discover your limits. Behavior has a direct impact on your career and relationships, so don’t ever put yourself in a situation that could compromise either.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy a drink during work events when alcohol is provided. However, knowing your limits and how you behave during these events is important and can make or break your career. Be smart and keep your career in mind.