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Dr. Shirley Says...

Business after hours: 
Polish Pays

When an event begins after 6 p.m., even if no particular attire is specified, it is probably safe to assume that a little dressier look is in order.

With the prevalence of open houses, promotional affairs, and other after-hours events being held by numerous organizations, it is important that we, as business professionals, be aware of the special images we should project for these special occasions.

Don’t kid yourself, the emphasis is on business even if the clock says it’s after regular working hours. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time, of course, but it does mean you have to make certain that your attire and demeanor are professional. The same goes for anyone who accompanies you.

If you are invited to a function that starts between 5 and 6 p.m., then the presumption is that you will come by from the office. Thus, your regular business clothes are appropriate. Certainly, you might want to freshen up a little bit–men might take the time to shave, women reapply their makeup. A fresh shirt or blouse could be in order, but these occasions are pretty much an extension of your business day and for ladies, a too dressy "cocktail party look" would be overdoing it.

When an event begins after 6 p.m., even if no particular attire is specified, it is probably safe to assume that a little dressier look is in order. For both men and women, it is perfectly acceptable to take your regular business attire and simply dress it up a little bit. For men, this could mean a different tie; for women, a dressier top. However, be sure to keep your selection on the conservative side unless you want to be the topic of conversation for the next six months or more. And ladies, save your sex goddess look for another occasion. Think of looking elegant and tasteful rather than sexy.

Attire, of course, is a major factor to consider when attending a business "social" event. Here are a few other "dos" for appropriate behavior.

Do keep your body language on the conservative side. Women should not walk or carry themselves in a seductive manner. They should not drape themselves over a man–whether he is an escort, husband or co-worker. By the same token, men must be aware of inappropriate touching–arms around the waist or shoulder. Sexual or paternal behavior is inappropriate and compromising.

Do watch the drinking–yours and your companion’s. People never forget a lapse in this area. Food or drink should not be considered the main event at an after-hours function. Limit yourself to one or two drinks, and don’t expect the food to substitute for dinner. It is hard to imagine anything less gracious than a person devouring plates full of hors d’oeuvres.

Cocktail food is usually finger food, and a paper napkin or plate is generally provided. When using only a napkin, be careful when you are maneuvering through a crowd with it. Also, cocktail food is deliberately heavy in oil, to slow down the absorption of alcoholic beverages. It is, as a result, rather messy to eat. So, be careful and mindful of your face and hands.

If smoking is acceptable, do use an ashtray to flick your ashes. Don’t drop them in plants or on the floor. Also, be aware of the direction your smoke is drifting. In any case, always ask the individuals in your presence if they mind you smoking; then, abide by their expressed wishes.

When being introduced or introducing yourself, do shake hands. Handshakes are your first way of connecting with a person. Remember, however, that a limp, moist handshake or a bone crusher can slam the door on an enthusiastic response. When you shake hands, people make an immediate judgment about your character and level of confidence. So a firm, quick grasp handshake is in order.

Whether it is proof of registration at an event or simply identification for you and your company, the name tag has become a frequent element of professional business attire. Do wear your name tag on the upper right hand portion of your garment. Why? Because when you shake someone’s hand, their line of vision travels from your eyes, down your right shoulder to your extended hand. It is far easier to read your name tag when it is in the line of vision.

In your career, you will find yourself in many business "social" event situations where you will be called upon to demonstrate your professional polish. Knowing the basics will allow you to avoid awkwardness and embarrassment in these settings and to be self-confident no matter what you encounter. In the competitive environment of the 21st Century, "polish pays."


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