Riding subway this morning, on my way to meet a new client, I overheard this following exchange between 3 young professionals.
- First lady: That’s when he asked me my opinion.
- Second lady: Nooo! That’s crazy. What did you say!
- First lady: I was like, “Oh, so you wanna turn this into a Line Manager feedback session? Fine with me.”
- Third lady: You’re crazy! She chuckled.
- First lady: Yep, and with that, I proceeded to have a big glass of wine and told him what I think….”
YIKES! In my experience this type of exchange between a manager and employee does not end well! Just like oil and vinegar don’t mix, neither does alcohol and feedback! When out with colleagues, especially your boss, any topic called “candid feedback” is dangerous territory. If ever it comes up and you’re in earshot, I suggest you bolt out of there. Don’t take the bait! Make a joke, change the subject, fake a phone call, head to the bathroom, do anything to keep out of that conversation. I know, I know….in the moment it seems cordial, even inviting. Why not let your let the boss in on what’s really going on at work? This could help everybody, right? You’re just doing what no one else will. And besides, he asked!
Don’t bee fooled by this open gesture. The fallout can be horrible. You might say something that another employee asked you to keep confidential. You might criticize your boss’ performance and he remembers this at your next review. Or you may say something negative about someone who soon after becomes your boss.
I have a client who told me this story. At a departmental dinner one manager asked another how he felt about a woman who worked in the organization but wasn’t on their team. He responded; “She’s a mess! I would never work for that b—-.” In less than six months this same lady was brought in to lead the division. Coincidentally, one month later the manager who made the remark was demoted and forced to work in another office. The explanation given was “…his work stream had been moved”.
It may be that the two events had nothing to do with each other, but I doubt it. Even if they were unrelated, you never want to open yourself up to the possibility of having your career negatively affected by reckless words.
Here are some tips to safeguard your reputation when hanging out socially with colleagues.
- Avoid alcohol! That’s my best advice. But if you feel pressured, then order 1 drink and 1 glass of water at the same time. Sip both alternately and when they are done keep drinking water. One drink should be your max.
- Order club soda or tonic water with a lime twist. People will think you’re drinking vodka or gin and tonic. This gives the allusion that you are drinking along with everyone else.
- “Accidentally” knock your drink over when the conversation gets negative. Your colleagues will cut you off for sure and that will be enough of a distraction to change the subject.
- Excuse yourself from any conversations that could be negative or contentious.
- Only make comments that you would feel fine repeating to small children or in Church…during service!
- Show up with a list of your own topics to talk about. These you can expertly switch to when the conversation seems to be going in the wrong direction.
- Keep your cell phone close at hand in case you “need” to check on the baby sitter or an ill parent.
- Talk about the food at the restaurant or the bathroom. Both of these are easy deflections and can go on forever. They make a great distraction.
- Only make neutral comments about other employees. Join in the conversation, but keep it light.
To quote one of my mentors;
“At your level there’s no such thing as a throw-away statement!”
- Show up right at the beginning and leave politically early.
- Attend events you are invited to as often as possible. This will give you a sense of who generally starts dangerous conversations.
- Intend to eat! And nibble the whole time. It’s hard to say the wrong thing with a mouth full of food.
Most of all, whenever you’re out with colleagues keep the conversation light and away from work.
Hope this helps. Be careful out there!
The Meeting Coach