In Good Taste: The End-Of-Summer Office Cookout
Dear Etta Kate: I work in a small office of 10 employees. Once or twice a week, a few people will grab lunch together. I join in about half the time when they ask me. I rarely initiate. For one thing, lunch gets expensive. But the actual reason is that I like keeping some distance from my co-workers.
Now they are planning an end-of-summer backyard cookout with everyone bringing a covered dish. I dread it. How can I avoid having to endure their tepid potato salad and under-cooked chicken? I don't want to hurt their feelings – or my stomach – but I need my weekend to recover from the work week. Please help! Sincerely, Semi-Unsociable in Shelby
Dear Semi-Unsociable: I realize one’s off time should be private time, so I hope this answer won’t hit you like a truck, “Semi,” but it might benefit you to know that socializing is like oil on the squeaky wheels of office relationships.
Etta Kate understands you believe the expense of going to the occasional lunch should be enough. But she fears if you eschew the chance to chew the fatback with the gang in relaxed out-of-office settings with no clock ticking to get back to the grindstone, you’ll end up sidelined or totally excluded from the natural camaraderie that arises from collegial interactions. At the very least, your absence will result in your inability to understand inside jokes, or worse: You becoming the subject of office scuttlebutt.
Rather than thinking of these outings as an imposition, Etta Kate suggests you employ them as a means to increase your personal public relations quotient. Provide your colleagues evidence that they and your job are important to you. If those interpersonal talents don’t come naturally to you, fret not. They can be learned. Use your savvy to advance at work through the art of charm at parties by:
- Bringing a great recipe that will wow the crowd. Either make it or stop by a trendy shop en route and pick up a package of piquant party pecans.
- Treating the event like a reconnaissance mission. Inquire about how your co-workers spend their time out of the office, discover what they enjoy, and listen to them tell tales from their lives. At the very least you’ll be perceived as a delightful listener.
- Taking your “show and intel” further by responding throughout the year with inexpensive but powerful gestures of genuine care. If one colleague raves about the chocolate chip cookies you brought, you can share some with her months later.
- Relaxing while remaining cognizant that you must be on your best behavior. Like sandpaper, these outings can be a little rough, but you can use them to smooth over the iffy spots in your work-day world.
Above all, when dealing with a pot luck food setting, be certain your hot dish stays hot and your cold dish stays cold, or you’ll face another danger – being known as the co-worker who introduced food-borne illness to the party. If that happens, although your mates might recover, your reputation won’t.
Now, get dressed, find a delectable dish, and go be sociable. You might even enjoy it!
Etta Kate is the nom de plume of a business consultant who maintains anonymity to protect her clients’ privacy. She is at work on her first book about etiquette.