It’s perfectly okay not to drink, and millions of people all over the country refrain from imbibing in alcohol out of religious reasons, personal preference, health problems, and addiction. However, it’s also important to acknowledge that drinking is a common pastime for many in the United States – and among company get-togethers and within exclusive clubs, bars, and meetings, alcohol can flow quite freely and may be commonly indulged in.
For many who are sober, this presents a great challenge. Many fear that refusing to drink might be a sign of disrespect, or that not drinking could potentially lower their chances of promotion. We’re here to not only dispel that fear, but to help you find ways to avoid awkward moments and deal with corporate situations wherein you might have to socialize with imbibing co-workers while completely stone-cold sober.
Drinking and Career Advancement
You can relax about your promotions – only a fraction of Americans attend happy hour with co-workers, and studies from not too long ago showed that Americans generally held a bias against people who are drinking at work. While that has changed and shifted, it’s important to remember that drinking is nonessential, and has no bearing on your effectiveness as a leader or decision maker.
While some studies suggest that those who drink during happy hour can come up with better unorthodox methods (thinking outside the box more often), your abilities as a sober person are more likely to have a bearing on whether you will be promoted than your abilities to perform while buzzed or tipsy.
Socializing While Sober
One of the greater fears for people in sobriety is that, when faced with having to socialize with others who are drinking, the difference in alcohol levels is likely to cause a little friction and awkwardness. However, there’s really not that much to worry about. People tend to avoid getting drunk at company socializing events, and a little alcohol, while likely to loosen some lips, is not likely to start anything you wouldn’t be able to handle while sober. You have to consider that if anyone did get seriously drunk, it would turn a ‘fun’ and loose event into something likely chaotic, destructive, and filled with serious consequences for the liable parties involved. Here are a handful of simple tips to help with the socializing.
Drink, But Do Not Drink Alcohol
The most awkward thing you could do during a corporate event involving alcohol is not drink at all. That doesn’t mean you need to imbibe in booze – stick to the classics, like a coke, a seltzer with lime, a club soda or some cranberry juice. Just don’t drink anything alcoholic, and don’t gulp your drink. Keep it easy, and simple. If someone offers to buy something for you, you can always just point towards your drink, give them a curt smile, and either continue the conversation with a different topic or walk away.
Avoid or Sandbag Talking About Sobriety
The first person to notice that you’re not drinking any alcohol is likely to ask you about it. Cue questions about religious background, addiction history or general substance abuse, and if you’re a woman, speculations that you might be pregnant. Don’t make a big deal out of it – if you feel it isn’t anyone’s busy, simply give them a short smile or chuckle and sandbag the topic. Immediately move onto something else or ask a question of your own.
If you do want to talk about your recovery, keep it short and simple. Don’t go into depth – just say whatever you feel comfortable revealing and control the conversation by moving onto a different topic or bringing a question for them to answer.
Focus on Good Small Talk & Work
The key to keeping things as minimally awkward as possible is to just have a breadth of topics to endlessly talk about. You can generally gauge how you should talk to a person depending on the information they convey through their choice of words, topics, and body language.
Someone feeling more lax and likely to make jokes is also going to be open to more informal topics of discussion. You could spend some time talking about whatever it is you may have in common, even if it’s as simple as a short opinion on the latest in cinema, or something you’ve been reading recently. If the conversation skews more towards something related to work, go with the flow.
Office small talk might not come naturally to you, especially if you’ve always felt a little out of your element and socially-awkward without the help of booze to loosen you up. However, practice is key. Start by keeping a simple little checklist of tips in your head and breathe. Don’t freak out or get nervous – you’re just talking.
Try and always ask questions. You’re generally going to minimize awkward pauses if you’re continuously asking questions. You’re also likely to get some questions in return, giving you the opportunity to talk about something you don’t have to come up with first. Keep your eyes on the person when they’re speaking, don’t interject verbally (just nod), don’t fidget too much with your hands (a little motion is fine, of course), and don’t talk too fast. Take a breath, slow down, smile. And, of course, consider the 60/40 rule: spend about 60 percent of the conversation listening, and just 40 percent of the conversation speaking.
If Possible, Suggest Activities Without Drinking
Happy hour at the office is an aspect of American work culture that has grown in recent years, but if you have any say in the team building activities your team or company engage in, try and skew the teambuilding into directions that generally forego drinking, for good reasons.
Go for a softball match, some paintball, indoor skydiving, and so on. There are countless ways to have fun as a team with your other co-workers and effectively socialize without a single drop of alcohol. All you need is an activity that doesn’t encourage alcohol, and a little imagination.