I have always been against going to after-work drinks. I think as a black woman working in Corporate America, we are turned off because sometimes we are made to feel like an “other” or a piece in the puzzle that doesn’t necessarily fit. These situations are often awkward for us, (well for me at least).
Since I started working at my company, about four years ago, I can only remember going out with my colleagues five times. I dread when someone invites me out for drinks at work. A sense of doom comes over me, as I go through the possible white lies I could tell them to get myself out of the situation. However, I learned recently we have to bite the bullet and attend these work events, because it’s necessary if we want to advance our career, make connections, and understand how our office really functions (and the role everyone plays in it).
On this particular day, I had no idea I would be asked out for drinks. I headed to work like I normally would, reading my book The Little Black Book of Success: Laws of Leadership for Black Woman by Elaine Meryl Brown, Marsha Haygood, and Rhonda Joy Mclean, when I got to chapter 19 entitled Step Outside Your Comfort Zone. This chapter emphasized the importance of connecting with your colleagues and getting to know them on a personal level—asking them out for coffee or going out for drinks when you’re asked and if you are not asked, inviting yourself. Before getting off the train, I concluded that these authors were completely insane and there was no way I would ever invite myself to someone’s after-work drinks.
Around 3 PM, my favorite executives in the office, who also happens to be leaving the company, invited me out for drinks. Really? I politely thanked him for the invite but remembered it was Tuesday and I had to go to prayer meeting. When another co-worker asked if I was going, I told him about church—he replied, “You’re really strange, but you have to go out with us.” Now I felt guilty and anxious. My job is going through major changes and this could possibly be the last time we all get together; I also knew that if I didn’t go, I would feel guilty because he went out of his way to invite me. I couldn’t concentrate. The sweet sounds of Lauryn Hill playing through my headphones no longer soothed my soul, I had to go to drinks with my co-workers….THE HORROR.
On the walk to the bar, naturally, I felt uncomfortable. The topic of conversation? Crime, (which I assumed they were indirectly talking about minorities), politics (in which they slammed Obama and his whole presidency) and donors for their children’s school (which is something I can’t relate to). This is going to be a nightmare, I thought. When we got to the venue, my fears for the night were diminished. At first, I felt awkward. We were all sitting in a circle, but my chair was further than the others. I also declined a drink as soon as I got there, so people looked at me like I was insane. As the conversation went on, I decided to have something light, to ease my nerves. I became more involved in the conversation, I also got out of my seat to be in the center of it. I listened as everyone talked, the lawyers at my firm, the engineers, the product managers, it all made sense, how each person played such a vital role in the company. Everything that we talked about was surprisingly not foreign to me and when they talked in their coding talk, I just shook my head as if I understood (if you didn’t know already, I work for a financial technology firm). We cracked jokes, laughed, talked about past employees, and just enjoyed the time we spent together. Going out for drinks with my co-workers, was one of the best decisions I’ve made. It wasn’t awkward after all and I learned a lot about them on a personal level, that I would’ve never known had I declined their offer.
Here are some tips to surviving After Work Drinks:
- Assess the situation: Who’s going? Will you feel comfortable with those people? If you don’t think you will, don’t go!
- Find an ally: Do you have one person that you can buddy up with for the evening? If so, offer to walk with them and take it from there
- Have a drink: Even if it’s seltzer water
- Be authentic: I told them I had to leave to go to church, of course, they made a joke about this but turns out, they don’t look at me any different
- Don’t talk too much: There’s going to be information flowing left and right, people are really going to be letting their hair down, but you don’t know if the information you say, will get back to you or anyone else the next day. So to avoid this, listen intently, but don’t gossip
- Don’t get drunk: Very enticing, when someone from work is covering the tab and you can get whatever you want but don’t do it!
- Try coming out of your comfort zone sometimes: who knows, you may enjoy it