“A few of us are getting together for happy hour today, if you’d like to join.” He says. As if this is normal for their office. It is part of the culture he nonchalantly implies. Nothing to do with this being your first day here. Nothing to do with all of us being incredibly curious about who you are, what you’re like, and whether or not we will like you. “Sure. I’ve never passed up a happy hour before.” You say as you proudly smirk at the thought of how quick and confident your reply was.
You arrive to the restaurant, everyone turns and is staring at you. Remember to smile and say hello. Maybe follow that up with a “So this is where you all hide after 5pm”, or some other corny office-esque statement that is safe, slightly accusatory, but friendly. Now to jump in.
You’ll want to have 1-2 drinks, to show everyone that you can let loose, but not too many because you don’t want to get that loose. A safe bet would be to order a pint of your favorite beer, or if you’re classy a scotch – neat. Don’t ask the waiter any questions, just move things along. Don’t return your food or drink – even if there’s a rat crawling out of your $4 spinach artichoke dip, do not return it!
Be prepared to answer a lot of questions. Small talk. Basic information at first, but it may get deeper as the night goes on. Be prepared to tell the group how you became interested in your industry, where you went to college, possible affiliations, whether or not you’re married, have kids, coach softball, play poker, watch movies, etc. etc. etc. Answer questions, with thoughtful answers, but don’t monopolize the entire conversation. Be curious. Don’t let everyone ask you questions all night without returning the favor. The truth is they want to talk more than they want to listen. Give the group the opportunity to talk about their jobs, ask them about their lives, softball, movies, etc.. Don’t bash the boss. Don’t gossip. Don’t hint at wanting to gossip. Some of you know exactly what that means. Some of you don’t. If the group starts gossiping, don’t participate. Don’t ignore them or make a statement about how gossiping is bad. Just don’t participate. Smile, nod, stay relatively quiet until the conversation shifts.
Try to demonstrate the same level of interest in everyone that is there. They have invited you into the “group”. Take this opportunity to show each of them that you are interested in them, and not just the most outspoken member of their group (probably “Steve from finance”). It’s also probably best for you to leave a little early. Avoid the awkward bill issue. Close out your tab separately. Give the rest of them some time to “debrief” what they think of you. They’ll appreciate it. They wont know that they’re appreciating it, but they will.