Whether you graduated Wharton or Hard Knocks, chances are you probably didn’t take courses in shop talk or ice-breaking. Discussing business in a social setting is more art than science, and even if you’re a silver-tongued salesman and a scratch golfer, understanding how to combine the two very tasks is itself an invaluable skill. With that in mind, here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind when doing business in a social atmosphere.
Respect the Event
Doing business on the golf course is probably as old as the sport itself, but there is an etiquette that should be adhered to that goes beyond talking during someone’s backswing. Respect the game — when it’s your turn to tee it up, tee it up. You’ve got three or four hours out here, there’s going to be an opportunity to talk shop, but wait until your audience is receptive — while waiting for the group ahead of you to finish putting their balls in a bunker, say.
The same rules govern any sports outing or formal-type event. In more casual settings, a happy hour at the local margarita bar, for instance, there is still an etiquette even if less codified, which bears a striking resemblance to common sense. In other words, Don’t talk nuts and bolts at the salsa bar or crunch the numbers during a colleague’s karaoke number.
When in Rome
If you’re unsure about the appropriateness of something, look for guidance in the people around you. What are they talking about? Mirror them to some extent. If everyone is telling jokes and laughing, don’t be a party pooper by reminding them of work, no matter how much you might personally enjoy your job (remember that not everyone uses the Internet to read about business).
Warm ‘em up
Before you plunge right into business, how about a little foreplay? Test the waters to see if your audience is ready to talk distribution models and invoicing. Unless you’re in the mafia, attempt to ease into a business discussion rather than deliver a gotcha-style ultimatum.
Give ‘em an Out
If you’ve never conducted business with a person, maybe him or her out on the boat isn’t the ideal way to begin. Three hours on the water with no place to run and having to listen to you talk about widgets is technically outlawed by the Geneva Convention. In that same spirit, don’t corner people at a wine mixer or attach yourself at the hip.
You’re in a social setting not a boardroom, let your hair down a bit. Unbutton that top button. Give a non-body related compliment. Try out that new joke (I hope it goes without saying that it should be in good taste). The point is, you want to show people that you have some degree of social skills, not just business skills.
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