JOIN THE PARTY?
Todd Dewett | April 9, 2020
Wouldn’t it be nice if work was a simple meritocracy? The rules and metrics would be clear. As a result, knowing who is performing well would also be very clear. Promotions would go to the most capable, the process would have no ambiguity, perceived fairness would be high, and so on. It’s simple, right?
Not really. Reality is quite different. In most workplaces, your social skills and social standing matter a lot. They impact the opportunities you’re given, the resources you have, the performance evaluations you receive, and nearly everything else.
I’m not saying this is always fair – it isn’t, but you can learn to use this reality to your advantage.
First, this means that who you know matters and how they feel about you matters. Thus, the most successful employees and managers are great networkers. They attend events. They are social in the office. They participate in special projects that help them gain visibility. In general, they are skilled at building their reputation through social means.
Next, know that those with above average communication skills have a massive advantage. More successful employees use this skill to start and navigate conversations at work, they are successful in meetings, and they love to mingle with clients or to make the big presentation. Again, it’s not necessarily fair, but it’s common.
Great, work on being more social, but what do you do when this makes you really uncomfortable? I’m not referring to your characteristic response to speaking up in a meeting. I’m referring to social opportunities you don’t enjoy or that don’t match your values.
The boss likes to go out drinking. He encourages everyone to go to karaoke. She has parties at her house. He takes the team to strip clubs. Depending on who you are, all of these might seem unacceptable. Fine – but your judgement about the activity and your decision about whether or not to participate are two different things.
I know you want to live your values. I fully support that goal, but it may involve tough decisions sometimes. So, let’s think about your options.
Option one is to consistently opt out. You can use whatever explanation you’d like: family obligations, community events, or simple fatigue. I understand and respect why you might do this. Just know the implications. Others might think you feel you are above them. They might talk poorly about you. You will lose a few points in the eyes of your boss. Not to mention, it’s also possible to view this option as a form of enabling.
The next option is to participate and say nothing. This is often the choice of professionals who are sensitive about the social side of work. They feel they are making an investment in advancement – paying the price. Or, they simply don’t want to risk falling out of favor. Either way, if you’re hearts not in it, others will probably know – so what’s the point?
Another choice might be to suggest better options. If they say they’re going for drinks, suggest bowling. If they are headed to the strip club, suggest a restaurant so you can all enjoy a great meal. Get creative, but don’t be too persistent. Just suggesting something safe and acceptable makes an impression. You’ve stopped short of openly judging others, yet you have politely indicated your discomfort.
There is of course, one other option. You can raise red flags. This might be a direct comment to the boss about how you’re not comfortable with the situation. Or, it might mean going around them to talk with human resources. Still another option is to speak to one or more participating colleagues to see if you can gain their support. All of these options are risky, but depending on your views, they might be worth it.
Let me give you yet another option. Go speak with your mentor. Before upsetting the applecart, seek perspective. Most of these issues feel black and white, but they aren’t. A good mentor can help you think through how to enact different options, and weigh the risks. If you’re too rash, they can pull you back from the edge. If you’re too kind, they might tell you to stick up for yourself. If you’re feeling ambiguity, they may offer needed lucidity.
In any case, realize that the learning you’re doing now will inform how you’ll lead in the future. You should always remember these episodes and how they made you, and others, feel. When it’s you leading the team, you will recall that leaders model the way. Because of how you were made to feel, you will remember to be mindful of others’ need for time off and family time. You’ll be sure to be more inclusive in decision making regarding socializing, instead of simply dictating what will happen. Most importantly, you’ll choose to steer clear of suspect choices.
That means your current predicament will be worth it. Surviving under odd or adverse conditions always makes you smarter and stronger. I’m not here to preach. I merely want to spell out the options and help you think about the implications of your behavior.
I’m not trying to make you feel better or to validate your particular values. A great leader shouldn’t consistently disregard a plurality of values. A great leader should be sensitive to behaviors that make others uncomfortable. A great leader shouldn’t be all about them, instead of lifting up the group.
A great leader probably shouldn’t be making big decisions at strip clubs.