A Collegiette's Guide to Navigating Office Happy Hour

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Step 3: Get to Talkin’
So you’re of age, you know why happy hours exist, you’ve decided to drink, and you drank responsibly. What do you actually do? Gottsman advises keeping your conversation to safe subjects, like sports scores or what’s going on in your city. “No sex, divorce, religion, [or] politics,” Gottsman advises. Keep it professional, but not too stuffy—you want to give your coworkers an idea of what you’re actually like on your best, most put-together day.

The only problem with putting your best self forward is that you may prove…irresistible. What if a co-worker gets flirty? Is it OK to flirt back? “Meeting someone is fine,” Gottsman says—you’ve just got to be smart about it. It turns out the real world frowns upon hooking up against walls in parties. Who knew? So if you’re interested, politely let your would-be paramour know that you’re with a group, and that you would love to hang out outside of an office setting. But beware—office romances are tricky and could get you in trouble. It might be best to avoid flirting all together. If someone engages, and warning bells go off in your head, politely end the conversation and move to another part of the gathering.

And that other part should not be the circle of interns huddled in the corner. “Those people look insecure,” Gottsman says. “You can be cordial to them, but don’t stay away from your boss!” It may be scary, but taking three to four minutes to chat up the guy or girl in charge shows confidence and a real sense of office dynamics. Introduce yourself“use both your first and last name, which sends a message of power”—and let them now how much you’ve enjoyed working for their company. And make sure you actually know who that boss is! Gottsman once encountered a former intern who told her that he had approached a woman at an office happy hour, extended his hand, and asked who she was. Turned out she signed all his paychecks.

Now that you’ve handled yourself with intelligence and grace, what happens if your coworkers don’t? If you’re a good friend, you might say something—“Hey, bud, you’re talking really loud!” But you’re not the booze monitor, and it’s not your job to police your co-workers. As an intern, it’s most important that you watch out for yourself. Gottsman says that you’re often associated with the company you keep, so if that guy that you kind of know from the office is gulping drink after drink, you might want to move to the other side of the room. Don’t let other people drag you down. And when going into a happy hour, make sure you have a way to get home, one that doesn’t depend on others’ sobriety. Bring your own car, or bring money for public transportation.

Step 4: The Takeaway
If there’s one thing you should take away from this, it’s this: decide how you want to be perceived before you go into happy hour. Gottsman recommends devising a calculated plan of who you want to be, and sticking to that. Looking to land a job offer? That second drink might be a bad idea. As a collegiette™ in a new workplace, you want to look confident and assertive. “This is important for young men,” says Gottsman, “but maybe especially for young women, who have worked so hard to achieve a level of responsibility in the workplace.”  Why risk it all for a few drops of alcohol?

Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert. Check out her website. For more tips on living the young professional life, also check out the Pretty Young Professional blog.

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