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How to socialize with colleagues without shooting yourself in the foot

Lifestyle Essentials: Cocktail Confessional

May 15, 2012

by Robin Schroffel

“Generation Xs and Ys are really eager to mix business and social,” says Joanne Blake, a personal image consultant with Edmonton’s Style for Success. And that can be a good thing. “It fosters teamwork and it’s great for cementing relationships and building stronger bonds.”

But she cautions that there are inherent dangers. Becoming overly familiar with those in leadership roles, inadvertently breeding jealousy or resentment and tarnishing your professional image are just a few of the potential pitfalls. Factor in alcohol, and those risks only increase.

Even in social situations, maintain a professional image. You can be good company without closing down the bar, say Blake. When she’s out with co-workers or clients, she makes a point to limit herself to one or two drinks. “You can make the drink last as long as you want,” says Terry Pithers, a business etiquette consultant and Blake’s business partner.

When work is your common ground, there’s a tendency to talk shop, but in social situations it’s best to keep this to a minimum, says Blake. Pithers agrees, especially when it comes to sensitive topics like salary or performance evaluations. “You don’t know why a person’s asking about that,” he says. “It’s best to deflect it with a little humour.”

Even trickier is when the gossip mill starts grinding. While it may seem harmless to dish about a co-worker across the table, the truth is it can destroy people’s careers. That goes not only for the gossip-ee, but for the gossiper, as well.

“We always tell people to take the high road. Say, ‘That hasn’t been my experience with that person,’ so you’re not adding fuel to the fire,” Blake says.

Yes, co-workers can be friends, but it’s all about boundaries. “Let your hair down,” Blake says. “But not too long.” And never forget that you’re still on the clock with your colleagues, even if you’re not still in the office. “People are still looking at you as a colleague,” Pithers says. “Can I trust you in the organization, or are you a person who might talk about me behind my back?”

For more on workplace etiquette, grab a copy of Alberta Venture’s Guide to Networking and Etiquette, which will be poly-bagged with subscriber copies of Alberta Venture and on newsstands in August.


TheraBreath Oral Hygiene Kit

If your colleagues are stepping back whenever you speak, it’s time to call in the specialists. TheraBreath’s oral hygiene kit contains travel sizes of its ultra-effective toothpaste, oral rinse, chewing gum and mints, plus a tongue cleaner to ensure your halitosis takes a hike.

U.S. $10


Breathe Right Nasal Strips

Eliminate nighttime congestion – and the snoring it can cause – by opening up your nasal passages with a simple adhesive strip. When you’re sharing a hotel room with a co-worker, they’ll thank you in the morning.



Dr. Graham’s Ear Plugs with case

If snoring’s not your problem, it might be someone else’s. The temptation to smother your colleague with a pillow could get in the way of a good working relationship, so it’s best to come prepared. Dr. Graham’s earplugs come with a handy case and cut out 29 decibels, slicing a snore’s volume significantly.



Sennheiser CXC-700 headphones

Slip these travel headphones into your ear canals – yes, ear canals – and cancel out all that ambient noise around you. Three settings are optimized for plane, train and bus travel, for air-conditioned rooms or long-haul flights and for crowded environments. And what’s good for you is also good for your seatmate – the fitted canal design means minimal sound leakage.



Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th edition

Since 1922, Emily Post’s books have enlightened readers on social graces for all occasions. Her descendents carry on the family tradition in the 18th edition of Etiquette, updated for the modern age with answers to conundrums like “Should I shake my business client’s hand when he’s sick with a cold?” and what to do when a co-worker offends you. The times may have changed, but good manners are timeless.



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