At work there are deadlines, objectives and routines. When out with friends we are ‘off the clock’, relaxed and comfortable. Socialising with work colleagues lies somewhere in between. This makes it hard to build up meaningful relationships, especially when you’ve just started a new job or changed roles.
Successful team work comes through having good relationships with our colleagues, so any time we spend socialising with co-workers outside of work has got to be good for business. At this time of year, there will usually be lots of opportunity to meet colleagues outside of your usual working day so we’ve come up with some tips to help you develop enjoyable, productive relationships with your work colleagues.
The right mindset can provide much-needed balance, so although office social gatherings might be daunting, think of them as an important part of how your team operates and worthy of your time. They’re part and parcel of your job, so make a deal with yourself to be there and make the most of the opportunity from a work perspective. Plan ahead, as you would a work meeting. Find out who else will be there, what people will be wearing and how long you will be expected to stay. Uncertainty causes unease, so knowing all of this information up front will help you approach the event with a positive mindset.
Look around – and listen
If it helps, give yourself a work related task to do while at the event. Take on the role as mentor, looking out for colleagues who are alone and introducing them to others. If there is a colleague you’re not seeing eye to eye with at work, go out of your way to hold out an olive branch and build bridges. Social settings are a great environment to practise forgiveness. Take the time to really listen to your colleagues and team members – it’s OK to talk about work stuff, indeed it’s a good way to unwind or debrief after a stressful day, but be prepared to jump in with more social topics to ease the mood when you can. Make mental notes of any common ground you uncover during your conversations, they’ll help you build stronger relationships once you’re all back at work.
Be a man (or woman) with a plan
Treat any social gathering as you would any other work event. Identify what you want to achieve and outline a game plan beforehand. If you are target driven, set yourself some simple goals – i.e. the number of people you’ll speak to; the amount of time you’re willing to spend there before moving on; seeking out people from departments that you have little opportunity to mix with before now, etc. Take the opportunity to speak to your manager and other superiors in an informal setting and find out more about what makes them tick outside of work, this will help you once you’re back in the office. It may also help to have an exit plan ready and inform your colleagues beforehand so it doesn’t look odd if you decide to leave early. Remember, the purpose of the gathering is to ultimately build better working relationships.
Don’t fear silence – be prepared instead
Preparation is key. As with any social occasion, there is a likelihood that conversation will dry up as topics come to a natural conclusion. If you find socialising difficult and small talk doesn’t happen naturally for you, don’t be afraid to pre-plan some safe topics of conversation that you can turn to during the event. There’s a great article about the Imposter Syndrome that talks about the power of perspective. It’s about realising and appreciating that everyone else in the room is in the same boat. This levels the playing field and makes it much easier for us to play an active role in networking opportunities.
Relax and try to go with the flow
If you approach the event with an open mind and positive outlook, you’ll find that what you once feared can actually become an enriching experience that adds real value to the relationships you have with your work colleagues. Visualise yourself at the event – talking to everyone, holding conversations together and actively participating in what’s going on. Picture yourself laughing, smiling, enjoying the interaction. Accept that this is part of what is expected of you in your role.
Remember, ‘tis the season to be jolly; a time when expectations (and opportunities) for out of work socialising are higher than any other time in the year. With a bit of forward planning and preparation you’ll be building better working relationships that will make 2017 a positive and productive year.