Long ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and I still considered a corporate career, I hated those get-togethers. Inevitably they were held at the house of whoever lived farthest away, on the darkest street with no signs or house numbers.
(1) When you’re with colleagues from your company, you’re attending a business event, whether you’re wearing t-shirts or tuxedos. Keep your game face on and your conversation light.
(2) Encourage your partner to disclose as little as possible about your financial, personal and career plans. Does this sound paranoid? Once when my academic department was seeking a new chairperson. We had made an offer to “James,” who claimed he couldn’t make up his mind. The hiring committee spent many hours coming up with an offer he couldn’t resist.
Then someone ran into James’s wife at an airport. She was brimming with excitement: they were going to move to a new home… in a state about 500 miles from where we were located. I don’t know what game James was playing, but it was over by the third quarter. I’m sure James never intended to share this information. And who knows? Maybe he wanted to commute. “Mary’s” husband admitted, ‘I really don’t like living here. I really miss my old place.” He was just having a bad day (or a bad week). But Mary’s colleagues now wondered, “How long will she stick around if he’s unhappy?”
(3) When it’s your company, your partner’s role is to be friendly and nice. Period. “My wife was so friendly to George – and he’s my fiercest competitor,” a friend once complained to me. In my view, that’s not a problem. Familly members are included in corporate events to defuse tense situations and soften the edges.
Finally, be sure you absolutely have to attend social gatherings. Often you’re better off to disappear quietly after a brief appearance, or even skip the event altogether. I’m sure some of you will have wildly different experiences and I would love to hear from you.