My boss has invited me to a Superbowl party at his house, but my annual tradition, which I love, is to watch from home. Is there any way I can politely decline, or is something like this a “must go?” If I have to go, how much will I have to change my behavior?
The older I get, the longer my list of criteria gets when it comes to deciding how I’m going to spend my time. Given all the personal and professional demands on our everyday lives, work-life balance comes down to leveraging your time effectively.
If the boss’s house isn’t where you want to be, the short answer is yes, you can politely decline. And skip the elaborate story about your make-believe out-of-town guests with social phobias, their three-legged dog who whines, and their odd son who barks. By the time you break into the specifics of that time they were asked to leave Macaroni Grill, your alibi is busted wide open. People who go into extreme detail when declining an invitation are usually lying.
Simply say “Thanks for the invitation, but I actually already have another commitment.” This is not a lie; you are committed to sweats, beer, nachos and your feet up on the couch. And if you want to dress up like a cheerleader and eat chili from kickoff on through to the last ten seconds of the fourth quarter, you don’t have to clear that with anybody but you. Well, maybe your spouse.
Now, settle in for the long answer. Before you pass on the invitation, remember that there may be some value in going. Consider…
…the current job market. With layoffs and cut hours and slashed benefits, oh my, the opportunity to get to know your boss and his or her family a bit better is a good one. People do business with people they like, and social events give you a chance to connect with your boss on a different level. When it comes to the next wave of layoffs, your boss’s personal investment in you or the greater value he or she may now place on you could determine whose cubicle gets hit next.
…that there is insight to be gained on your boss. You never learn more about people than when you see them in a different setting. Maybe she’s a really devoted, attentive mom. Perhaps he’s handier with furniture-making than you ever knew. The point is that there is intelligence to be gained here, even it’s simply on the nature of your boss’s personality or lifestyle. The better you understand what makes a person tick, the better you can adjust your professional interactions to gain the results you hope to achieve.
…the opportunity to network. Your boss is likely friendly with other bosses and professionals. It never hurts to shake hands with people you might one day do business with, or from whom you may one day need a job. Or, you may just connect with interesting people, like the guy who rock climbs just like you or the woman who grew up in your hometown 3 states away.
…you might have fun. Nobody likes flopping on the couch and tuning out the world more than yours truly. When I feel depleted, I can scarcely crawl to a girlfriend’s house on the promise of good wine and decent cheese. But sometimes getting up and out and into the company of fun people can fill you right back up. And if your boss ends up being the person you have the most fun with, well…touchdown.
If you do decide to go, however, remember that you are not simply a guest. You are a representative of your boss’s professional world and reputation, so leave your foam finger and die-hard NFL views at home (especially if they conflict with your boss’s). Don’t yell at the screen, and limit yourself to no more than two drinks. This two-drink maximum will spare you a multitude of embarrassments. Do you really want to hear about how you ended up hitting on the boss’s niece and throwing up in the hot tub?
Remember your manners; offer to assist your host in refilling the Cheetos or transporting discarded beer bottles to the recycling bin. Despite the temptation, do not join in with any jokes at the boss’s expense. His brother can say he’s a narcissistic blowhard. You cannot.
Keep in mind that with the benefits of networking come the obligations. If your boss’s sister corners you, wanting to discuss her spiritual beliefs ad nauseum, grin and bear it. Accept that you will not be able to sit and focus on the game, play by play, as a certain amount of socializing is expected by party attendees. You can, however, typically count on a hush coming over the room as the much-anticipated commercials air, providing you with the opportunity to escape your current conversation…I mean, get more chips.
Finally, as you would in any blind date situation, create a halftime backup plan. You can survive anything for two quarters, so when you accept the invitation, be sure to note that you’ll have to head out at halftime to stop by your parents or get home for the sitter. If the party is awful, you can get out of it. If it’s great, nothing flatters your boss more than the old “I’m having such a good time that I was able to juggle my other plans in order to stay.”
So, should you stay or should you go? You can typically make a case to do or not do anything in life if you think about it long enough. It all comes down to your criteria for how you want to spend your time. In the face of any offer, be it professional or personal, ask yourself a few key questions to determine your choice. “How will spending my time in this way benefit me?” or “What does my gut say?” are good places to start. Let these questions morph into your personal checklist for decision-making, and you’ll find the answers start coming much more quickly.Navigating the Workplace