So, you’ve decided to cut back on alcohol. Or maybe you’ve already quit, and you’re feeling all of the benefits to your health and well-being. But there’s one question nagging at you: How do I continue to network professionally without a drink in my hand?
Perhaps you often find yourself at company events where everyone is drinking. Or maybe you’ve heard statistics about successful people drinking more. Even if the real numbers paint a more complex picture, it can still seem like alcohol is everywhere.
Often, we feel socially pressured to participate, even if we don’t want to drink at that moment. We worry: will I still be accepted socially if I don’t partake? Will this potential client or employer judge me for not drinking? Will I have fewer career opportunities if I don’t drink alcohol?
The answer is that many people succeed in life without drinking much, or without drinking at all. It can seem intimidating at times, but believe us, there’s much more to your connections than the booze you may or may not consume. This article will focus on some tips to help you keep a robust network and social life, without being dependent on alcohol.
Making Connections Without the Booze
A crucial part of networking is making a positive impression, and this can seem tricky if you’ve just quit alcohol. This is especially true if you are mixing with colleagues at a bar, or a catered event. How will people react when they see that you aren’t drinking, or aren’t keeping pace?
The truth is, how people perceive you depends a lot on factors beyond what’s in your glass. Although it can seem difficult at first, especially if you’ve depended on alcohol in the past, a warm demeanor and a confident attitude will carry you past that awkward moment pretty quickly.
Most people don’t want to talk about alcohol at networking events – they want to talk about who they are, what they’re working on, what excites them, and where they’re going. If you have things to contribute, and you’re a good listener, most people will quickly forget that you’re sipping seltzer instead of beer.
But how to project this kind of confidence, when you’re used to having alcohol as a backup?
Some strategies that may help include:
Finally, practice makes perfect. The more experience you have with sober networking, the easier it will become. You may be surprised how quick the learning curve is, and how much your confidence matters more than your drinking.
Finding Other Networking Activities
It’s also important to find other ways of meeting people. While it may seem like drinking is essential to your professional circle, it may startle you how many connections you can make through other activities.
One place to start is where you meet with colleagues. Let’s say you’ve met someone working in the same field, and you’d like to get together with them to chat more. Previously you might have got together over beer – but what about coffee instead? You might find that the more you base your professional relationships on non-drinking activities, the more connections you’ll have who don’t drink – or who don’t expect you to.
It’s also true that new activities and hobbies can lead to important professional connections. Before, you might have met a friend of a friend while out at a bar, who later got you a job. But what about the people you meet when you join a yoga class or a cycling club? Sober activities are just as likely to connect you with people who share your interests or profession. In fact, the conversation may go better if there’s no alcohol involved!
And if these new friendships and connections lead to meetings over drinks, you can either exercise moderation, or be honest about your choices and switch to a topic that interests you both.
Being Up-Front About Drinking Less
Of course, there’s always the question of whether you should be direct about not drinking alcohol, or deflect and leave the topic alone. The best choice will often depend on the situation, and your own perspective.
It’s sometimes possible to avoid the topic of alcohol completely. For example, if you still drink moderately you might order a single beer and sip it slowly all night. In some contexts, no one will know it isn’t your fourth! The same can be true with some mocktails. Setting a limit of 1-2 servings of alcohol can be a great way to blend in and get the best of both worlds.
But there’s also something to be said for being polite, yet honest about drinking less alcohol. It takes courage, but the more people there are in each profession who are open about not drinking, the easier it will be for others to cut back as well.
At the end of the day, the best approach depends on what industry you’re in, and what your goals are. Some professions have an especially strong drinking culture, as recently discussed in The White Jacket Effect. How you approach moderation or sobriety in these contexts is important for your relationships.
No matter the situation, however, a good rule of thumb is to make sure nobody feels judged for their choices. If people sense that you respect them, they will often reciprocate.
Achieving Success Without Drinking
In general, if you’re confident in your decisions and respectful of others, you’ll find that drinking less does little to hurt your career. In fact, with the renewed energy you get from cutting out alcohol, you may experience a productivity surge, and become much more fun to be around. Any negative consequences of not drinking at certain social events will be outweighed by the benefits of being better at your job and more alert to new connections and opportunities.
Ultimately, networking isn’t about drinking, it’s about connecting. Being genuine, warm, sociable, and good at what you do will earn you lots of strong relationships. Some of these will be key to your personal life. Some will make a difference in your career. But all of them will be based on who you are, and have little to do with what you do, or do not, drink.
This week’s guest blog is written by Katie from Ria Health, a telemedicine platform based in the United States that uses evidence-based tools and technology to help people stop or reduce drinking alcohol from home, on their own schedule.