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How to Socialize With Colleagues and Potential Clients

Here are some useful etiquette tips on crafting e-mails and mingling with co-workers.
July 25, 2012

The benefits of having positive working relationships with one's colleagues are innumerable. Especially in an era when Americans work, on average, 1,778 hours annually according to OECD, fostering these ties can lead to more productivity and happiness in the workplace.

When done right, powerful relationships yield huge dividends—major business deals, and office synergy that earns your company a reputation as a great place to work. But navigating this territory is notoriously difficult. Various work scenarios call for different protocols, and many times employees are unable to traverse from a networking industry event to happy hour while maintaining decorum.

Below, we have compiled several tips to help you cruise through crafting your next e-mail or attending your next company function.

Mingling at an industry networking event. Industry networking events are prime opportunities to meet clients or representatives that can boost your business. However, often managers muddle the small talk that fuels these gatherings, and jeopardize their prospects for partnerships.

When chatting with potential clients, it is best to steer clear of taking on topics that make people uncomfortable, including politics and religion. One should also avoid imparting too much personal information; it is unwise to discuss your health, salary, finances or relationship problems when scrambling for things to say. You can always fall back on asking about plans for the weekend or the upcoming holiday or talk about hobbies, sports, movies and children.

Avoid gossiping about co-workers at all costs. As one British publication aptly observed, "You never know who's standing behind you, or is having a secret affair with the person you're talking about."

If you find yourself locked into a dead-end conversation at an office holiday party, you can always excuse yourself to get a drink. You could also say, "I won't hold you up any longer," and graciously extricate yourself, leaving him or her to mingle with other coworkers.

Toasting with colleagues at happy hour. Gatherings outside of the workplace are designed to foster loyalty and give colleagues an opportunity to get to know one another. Going to these events are important, as it shows your co-workers that you are invested in them and care to socialize with them. These gatherings also offer a great opportunity to get face time with senior level executives.

And as Debra Yergen, author of Creating Job Security Resource Guide, said in an interview, boundaries are key. "You want to have a warm working relationship, but you don't want to put either party in a position of feeling embarrassed Monday morning for what happened Friday night," Yergen says. "It helps everyone maintain a higher level of professionalism in the office when no one has done or said something they regret outside of the office."

Also be wise about what you say to your employees. Having an inappropriate conversation with someone beneath you in the company hierarchy reflects poorly on both of you. With this in mind, it is probably best to "keep a degree of professional detachment between yourself and those you manage," says Yergen.

Partnering with clients abroad. When working with clients or colleagues living in another part of the world, one should always consider the cultural differences that may affect business proceedings. Being cognizant of these subtle differences could make or break your attempt to foster relationships overseas.

Remember that a little cultural understanding and research before an overseas trip, goes a long way. The pace may be faster or slower than what one is accustomed to in the States. In India, having a strong handshake is not a cultural norm, making a weak handshake less significant. In China, the virtue of mianzior saving face, is paramount. This means that publicly embarrassing a Chinese employee could have disastrous consequences.

Sending e-mails or posting status updates. In today's society, e-mail and social media play a prominent role in business communication. What one posts on Twitter or sends in a message to colleagues is as important as any face-to-face interaction.

Perhaps the foundation of "netiquette" is understanding that no interaction over the Web is private. As Sally Hambridge of Intel wrote on the topic, "never put in a mail message anything you wouldn't put on a postcard." The same rule applies for posting on Twitter or Facebook, even if one has maximized his or her privacy settings.

Other ground rules include using spell check, not using all capital letters and considering which colleagues to include when hitting "reply all."

Recognizing generational differences. In the workplace, one is likely to work alongside a colleague whose generation views office matters in fundamentally distinct ways from his or her own. While millennials, facilitated by technology, may be accustomed to conducting business at any place or at any time, their baby boomer co-workers may feel differently. Communication styles may also clash.

While generational diversity is not new, with the technological gap perhaps larger than ever, it is imperative to acknowledge and work around these stylistic differences. More than anything else, one should foster an environment where the dialogue is productive and everyone is welcome and valued.

Celebrating your assets. In one Washington Post article, Lily Garcia advises that in any working relationship, authenticity is key. If by nature you are more introverted, don't be afraid to show up to a lunch or happy hour and just listen, because "your co-workers will just be happy that you showed up to the party."

What personal rules do you have about socializing with colleagues?

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