Remember when you had to get shots as a kid and your mom would encourage us to just shut up and get it over with? (No, just me? Expect a call from me, Mom!) Anyway, that's the approach that I take when it comes to business networking with groups or individuals I don't see it for.
Work is a minefield of uncomfortable circumstances with unwritten rules of engagement—including the dreaded lunch-with-colleagues challenge—and there's a bullet within the flaps of that restaurant menu waiting to be bitten.
So do yourself a favor and just bite it. You may be grateful later, because yes, some coworkers are annoying, but there's occupational equity in having more career allies than enemies, and an occasional team lunch may be a unexpected networking opportunity. So next time you're offered an invite, follow this three-step protocol.
1) Approach the meal with an open mind.
Leave ill feelings towards any of your teammates with the valet, and commit to playing nice, no matter how tough it may be. Humor your unfunny coworker, ask your boss how law school's treating his oldest daughter and actively listen to the stories from your frenemy Rebecca's honeymoon. Because let's face it: If you've been dodging these lunches for a while, your reputation could probably use a little damage control. How awesome would it be if the side you show during lunch positively enhances the one you show in the conference room?
2) Avoid office gossip like a pair of square-toed kitten heels.
Rebecca wants to know what you think of the alleged tryst between James and Karla? Too damn bad. Because you're going to keep your hands clean by swiftly changing the subject. Here's how: "I'm not sure what either of them have going on in their personal lives, but I will say that Karla's idea for the Dawson initiative was so good, right? Honestly, that's all that matters to me." The peanut gallery will take the hint, and probably think twice about inviting your non-catty ass again. We call that a win-win.
3) Don't drink.
Sure, it should go without saying, but we'd bet a two-for-$20 special that Rebecca's the kind of broad to sip water while the rest of the table downs watermelon martinis just so she can skedaddle back to the office to spill the beans to the powers that be. And if she's really a pro, she'll snap photographic proof for future reference--so don't put yourself in a position to be compromised. But we're sure you'll need a drink after taking one for the team, so call up the bestie for an off-the-clock pow-wow at your favorite bar so you can tell her how much of a full-throttle bitch Becky is.