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I work in a medium sized company (~150 people) and every year they have this drink off event in conjunction with one of the local fairs. This means they basicly all get together and drink wine and do ... I don't know actually, this week is the first time I'll be attending. According to senior management, my absence so far has been negatively noted, so I'm going to go this time.

I know alcohol consumption isn't mandatory there so I can get away with not drinking, but I wonder how can I avoid the feeling of being the last sane person in a crowd of progressively more drunk coworkers.

I also wonder what I'm supposed to actually do at these work events. I usually never go to social work gatherings, and I very rarely meet any coworkers outside work. In general, I'm an introverted person and social interaction is very draining to me, so I don't have that much experience either way.

How do I get through this evening without making a negative impression?

  • 3
    Have you asked them what they do at an event like this? (Other than drinking, that is) – Erik Sep 4 '17 at 14:13
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    How do you know everyone gets drunk if you've never gone? My company frequently holds social gatherings at bars, but almost no one gets wasted, and many don't drink at all. The alcohol is only there as a social lubricant, so the introverted people who don't know each other will talk. Is it possible you have completely the wrong idea about these events? – Kat Sep 4 '17 at 19:06
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    <many comments removed> If you have an answer, please post it below. Comments are here to ask for clarification to help improve the post, but they do not have the feature needed to properly vet whatever you say here. Comments are not for answers; answers are for answers. Thanks. – Robert Cartaino Sep 5 '17 at 14:57
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    Are you hostile to alcohol consumption? Much of the phrasing of your question sounds prettypejorative toward people who choose to drink socially. – Rob K Sep 6 '17 at 18:22

11 Answers 11

66

Just some hints.

  • Chat with an old-timer to get stories of past events. This should give you a rough idea what to expect.
  • Volunteer to help with organising, especially during the event. This will give you an inside perspective and hopefully a role to fill during. Back-up plan is to appoint yourself event photographer; carrying a semi-serious camera should do the trick.
  • Find yourself a soul mate colleague with the same problem and chat about anything (even work related will do, this person will be in equally deep).
  • Grab an alcohol-free beer or red grape juice. This makes abstinence less obvious.

And if all else fails:

  • Plaster a smile on your face, stay off your mobile phone, endure, leave early (hopefully before the worst of inebriated humour emerges).
  • Buy a fidget cube for in your pocket.
    [edit]Jacket pocket as you want to avoid that Mae West quote. (No, not the one about the fish)[/edit]
  • Totally stuff yourself at the buffet.

Good luck! (The fun seems to be mandatory)

  • 32
    Remember that stories from an old-timer will be the most "interesting" ones. So you can probably take them as an approximation of the worst case scenario, not the average. – aschepler Sep 4 '17 at 20:34
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    "Buy a fidget cube for in your pocket" - That may end up sending a different impression entirely... – HaemEternal Sep 5 '17 at 7:47
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    Regarding the photographer route: Make sure everyone is okay with having their pictures taken, especially if they'll end up drunk. And ask beforehand! – Bowdzone Sep 5 '17 at 10:13
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    @HaemEternal of course a jacket pocket or some such is implied (implicitly); if there is no room for surreptitious fidgeting it will not de-stress AT ALL. Fidget spinner may work also, it depends entirely on the fidgeter's preferences. – Bookeater Sep 5 '17 at 14:58
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    I'm not sure that making "abstinence less obvious" should be a requirement. It may just engender concerns about being "found out". This shouldn't be an issue. Own your abstinence! It's nothing to be ashamed of, and it's not right or wrong. People enjoy different things. – bornfromanegg Sep 6 '17 at 8:55
20

I've done this plenty of times and no one will care that you're not drinking.

Not everyone gets completely trashed at these things, so you'll be able to find some conversation somewhere.

If people ask about you not drinking just say

Sorry I don't drink

Or

I'm driving

Or

I'm the photographer, smile..!

Or

I'm on antibiotics

(make up a lurid illness if you want to divert the conversation)

Mainly though, people won't care and will reason that you not drinking will allow others to soak up more of the bar bill and thank you for letting them do that.

As Bookeater says, take some photos as a self-appointed photographer - it's a great way of mingling and meeting people. You're quite likely to get to know people this way and maybe make some new friends.

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    I would avoid excuses that are circumstantial (like your examples of driving, photographing, and being on antibiotics). Sooner or later, someone will notice, "odd, this guy is always on antibiotics during our outings", and you'll seem disingenuous. You can just say you don't drink. You don't need to justify yourself, and you don't need to feel pressured into providing more acceptable (to them) excuses. – Alexander - Reinstate Monica Sep 4 '17 at 16:43
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    As I said on a similar question on The Workplace, I've found that "I can't right now" works well without lying. People don't need to know if you're on some incompatible medication, concerned about your drive home, or abstaining for other reasons. – Monica Cellio Sep 5 '17 at 2:25
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    Never tell a lie once @Carpetsmoker :) – TOOGAM Sep 5 '17 at 4:34
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    @Alexander I do drink, and yet at almost-every work event I’ve attended, I’ve not drank anything, and used the “I’m driving” line—because I am. I drive to the office, and while other options are available if I really wanted to drink with my coworkers, all of them are rather inconvenient and to date I just haven’t bothered. No one’s questioned it at all. – KRyan Sep 5 '17 at 12:49
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    @OscarBravo : Regarding "minimum price", I didn't say that you should share all requested info. Just never lie. After I lived according to that principle for long enough, I've found that people trust me more than most others. Also, to me lying would be a big deal, as it would require that I decide to change my long-standing character of being a non-liar. As I don't want to change that aspect of my character, not much in life even has such high stakes to even effectively tempt me. My goal isn't to achieve personally-desired consequences. My goal is to be honest, and help by sharing desired info – TOOGAM Sep 6 '17 at 13:08
15

Depending on what type of personality you are, the following may work for you, it certainly does work for me.

I prefer to be honest. I participate in parties of this kind, but I make it clear to people around that I decided not to drink (no excuses). I usually leave when people start to be drunk to the extent that they do not realize it, but they behave like pure idiots. I usually leave silently, because anyway, nobody cares about specific people any more as everyone is drunk.

One can get around this by finding someone who does not drink that much and is fine to chat with, and spend time with them; depending of the size of the company/department you should be able to find such people, maybe even before the party in daily office situations.

This approach may still give you the badge of a "boring moron" by some, but if you value honesty and present yourself in honesty, I'm quite sure some people will value your approach anyway. And you don't know how many other people feel it similarly to you and maybe next time, they also won't drink (or won't drink that much) and enjoy the company of each other. At least this is my experience.

8

Do they call it a 'drink off', or is that your label? Drink off implies an event that is heavily focused on alcohol, with participants competing to drink more than each other. While that may describe this event, in my experience work events like this are more commonly about hanging out with colleagues while also having a drink. If there's a free bar there will always be some people who will want to take advantage of it, but hopefully most people are more interested in the conversation and the alcohol will be less important (at least at the start of the event).

Typically these events are about team building. Have you ever avoided asking a work question because you didn't know who the right person to ask was, or because you'd never spoken to them before? These events give you a chance to talk to your colleagues about something that isn't work. The hope is that you'll then find it easier to speak to them when you're back in the office.

My advice is to turn up at the start of the event and do your best to make conversation with the people who are there. Maybe ask a colleague you are friendly with to meet you before the event so you can arrive together so you'll have at least one friendly face to speak to. It's fine for you to leave early, as people are getting more affected by the alcohol.

  • It's my label. It's essentially a gathering of the company at a fair where everyone gets drunk. That's it – Magisch Sep 4 '17 at 18:03
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    @Magisch Are you sure about everyone? On company parties not everyone drink. People are designated drivers, they live far away and have to drive home so gotta stay sober, people have little kids and can't get smashed. It's hard to imagine everyone in your company are heavy-drinkers. – Jakub Kania Sep 4 '17 at 18:15
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    If people are noting your absence, they aren't that drunk. I too hate the idea of a work 'outing' as such, other than with the department I'm now in (we're all introverts, so it'd be something of we all have one or two drinks and then go home ;)). I'd be expecting a lot of the non-management to get drunk, and maybe some managers but not all. I also found when I went, a lot of people weren't drinking too - although most could of done as they were staying at the hotel, a lot of people just don't enjoy it! – djsmiley2k - CoW Sep 4 '17 at 18:31
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How do I get through this social event without alcohol?

For most people, the answer to this question is alcohol. But the point isn't actually the alcohol. Most people believe they need alcohol to relax, but this seems to be a conditioned response. If people are told they're drinking alcohol they will behave tipsy. Regardless of whether they are or not.

It's also worth noting that in subcultures where people don't drink, like Mormons in the USA, people are often unexpectedly lively at parties. Because they don't require alcohol to allow themselves to behave that way. Whether you behave more or less friendly or freely is a choice, one you can force yourself to make.

Perhaps the reality is that for most people alcohol is a party placebo. Many assume adulthood requires strict control of one's inhibitions. It's not acceptable to be playful, which we associate with being childish - even though such a state is usually benign and importantly joyful. Basically, alcohol is used by most people as an excuse to be free and have fun in an otherwise tightly regulated social environment.

Most people won't care if you are drinking or not. The point is having an opportunity to socialise. Your seniors are not unhappy about your absence because you don't drink. It's because they want to get to know you better, so you can feel less awkward around each other at work.

If you repeatedly refuse to show they'll feel upset, because that implies you don't care about them. Whether you do or not is besides the point, it's polite to make an effort.

I don't drink. If there's a social event (and alcohol is always part of it) I will go early, stay for a few hours, do the rounds. By which I mean make an effort to say hello to everyone and ask them about non-work things, then leave before it gets too late and they get too drunk. The more people you chat with, the more likely you are to find someone you can really enjoy chatting with.

How are you to behave? Just be friendly. Say hello to as many people as possible and ask them questions. That'll leave a good impression. You might even have a laugh, have a really interesting conversation with a colleague, or bump into an attractive person from another department. Maybe they'll be a shy introvert as well!

I too find many social gatherings draining, and enjoy a considerable amount of alone time. But the bottom line is this: you are at a social event to be social. I have to force myself to be social sometimes, I don't find it natural. But like anything else, you'll get better with practice. It's only for a few hours. The experience is what you make it.

  • 1
    Yes; with people who prefer introverted modes of behavior, however, not all of this is applicable. Introversion would tend to lend an experience with internal mental states that would oppose any such social factors as above. Of course, maybe you have evidence to the contrary; that news article was interesting but brief and not counterindictive. – can-ned_food Sep 6 '17 at 7:18
  • @can-ned_food I too find social experience draining, and prefer to have a lot of time alone. Even a long weekend with my oldest friends is frankly exhausting by the end of it. But if you go to a social event you have to force yourself to be social; that's how you get better at being social. It's only for a few hours. Will edit to stress point. – inappropriateCode Sep 6 '17 at 7:36
  • Pardon if I seemed harsh. I'm an introverted person who learned socializing late in life. I don't now see it so much draining as I do, well, often rather insipid. Anyways, the real reason I thought to comment was because I myself use alcohol nowadays for its psychedelic properties; ergo, pretending I'm inebriated is entirely a voluntary exercise and rather unnecessary if my sole aim is to, well, engage in social behaviors of a certain mode. Of course, it could be helpful to emulate such behaviors — but, it seems likely that the OP would have little experience with such things. – can-ned_food Sep 6 '17 at 7:47
  • @can-ned_food That's fair enough. I too don't drink, but I'm saying to act more friendly and freely is a choice. If it doesn't come naturally, I don't think that's an excuse not to try. Like you say, one learns to socialise. And develops techniques to get the most out of social interactions. I think the largest part is probably just saying hello to a lot of people to find who you actually can enjoy chatting with. – inappropriateCode Sep 6 '17 at 7:52
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Go to the event and do "drink." Just not alcohol.

Another poster suggested alcohol free beer or grape juice that looks like wine. My drink of choice was coca-cola. If pressed, I would ask for just a "splash" of rum so I could claim that it was "rum and coke." All the "re-fills" were just coke.

Basically, you need to be "seen" at these events. Preferably with a "glass" in hand. What the actual contents are is up to you. The issue is one of "face time."

As for the "contents" of the discussions, don't sweat it. People are there to "drink," not to talk, and will probably have forgotten what they talked about in a day or two.

  • I don't fully agree with you. If OP's choice is to not drink he shouldn't feel ashamed of it or for whatever reason try to hide it. It's his choice and coworkers have to respect that. Plus I don't think he will be the only one who doesn't drink at that event. – Axel2D Sep 6 '17 at 8:57
  • On one hand, you want to do what everyone else is doing so that you "fit in." On the other hand, you don't need to do exactly what everyone else is doing,that's where the "choice" comes in. – Tom Au Sep 7 '17 at 0:04
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    This coke idea is great. I have heard and seen the reverse, in weddings and events where you have lots of people who does not drink for religious reasons, people using cans of coke with wiskey inside....it is just a question of fitting in – Rui F Ribeiro Sep 7 '17 at 6:42
4

I have to wonder if the stumbling block here is not as much about forced socializing as it is about this being a drinking event of sorts?

I find it hard enough to socialize "on demand" but being coerced into doing that with a bunch of drunk people (if I am not imbibing) is tough indeed.

However, since you "must" go, it might help to expand on exactly what kind of fair this is. For example, if this is Oktoberfest (or a similar German style fall/beer festival), there are LOADS of things to do aside from drinking non-stop. In that case I'd just start approaching people who maybe look a little bored, or anyone you have some existing work relationship with, and say "hey let's go check out the rides" or similar. If it's a more traditional American fair, again, there is usually something to see/do if you are walking around instead of parked at a table. This is the up-side of your situation - this isn't a private party where you are stuck in a smaller venue with limited activities on hand.

The most important thing is that you should definitely find the manager who is complaining that you aren't attending these events and make your appearance. Chat them up a bit, then go do your thing.

3

Before anything else, it would help to say what country is this, is it a "relaxed" or very "strict/domineering" company, what industry sector, and where are you in the company?

Turning to the question itself, my immediate reaction is that when you say it was "negatively noticed by senior management", that's a statement that could mean many things. You might not be interpreting it as its meant, or need to check, because you could be worrying over nothing.

  • it could mean they want to encourage people to join in, and people noticed your absence ("where's John anyhow?"), but someone else is saying this was noticed negatively where it was just an observation and not meant negatively.

  • it was a statement of disappointment but not negative as in being perceived as doing anything wrong.

  • it was something they want but nobody ever meant it was to be taken as impacting your career not to. ("Gentle social pressure")

Before you assume or worry about anything, you need to just ask. A way to do this might be to ask, "is not going, going to be a breach of policy or a black mark on my career? I really don't want to, unless it's mandatory and a breach of my employment not to"

By asking it in such strong, direct terms, you achieve three things.

  • First, you are much more likely to be told it isn't. Once they say that, then however much pressure there may be, and whatever else they say, you basically have permission to say "thank you but in that case I'd rather not. Its not my scene".

  • Second, they will immediately appreciate how it's a real stress for you, and not to joke or exaggerate, and to take anything you say about it as a real feeling, not to brush off or dismiss, or think "It'll be good for him and the team, let's nudge them to go, I'm sure they will love it when they get there".

  • Third, because of these, you are in fact very likely to get understanding and agreement not to go.

How to set up such a meeting? Say that "something is disturbing you, could you come to see them and have a formal meeting. It should be quick." Again, most companies you could easily knock and ask for a word. But making it more formal emphasises its important and they may put their manager hat on. That will probably help. Especially in a 159 staff company.

3

Every company has these functions, and has attendees not drink because they're driving, pregnant, cultural reasons, just don't feel like it. Say, "I'm not drinking" but only if they ask. Get a seltzer or soda. Get involved in any of the activities-- I know it seems counterintuitive for the introvert/wallflower but it will keep your hands busy (and not full of beer), give you something to make small talk about, and make your presence visible. Then slip out early.

The anticipation is worse than the event. You work with these people all day, another hour or two is going to be fine.

2

Being forced to socialize for an introvert is the worst. We tend to want to keep social, personal and professional life separated so we know what to expect from each situation.

We usually hate small talk and feel very uncomfortable in situations that require letting loose because we fear it will impact how people perceive us.

We often feel like outsiders that do not fit in.

I used to be a hardcore introvert until I started my own company. Being isolated most of the time made me realize how important and crucial it is to be around people. Matter of fact, if it was not for my family, I couldn't even focus on building my startup. At the end of the day, one moment or the other, we need others.

Not everyone is nice or interesting to be around but the more I socialize the more I realize it's not that scary.

But when I really don't feel like socializing here what I do :

I set a fake call on my phone to ring in 15-30mins. Then I proceed to engage in a conversation. I let them talk about themselves and show signs of interest with minimal responses like "huh huh", "oh yeah I think I read something about that", "you said you did what? I wish I did that" etc.

With a smile and proper tone, it actually looks like you are interested in what they are saying. When my phone eventually rings, if the conversation I'm in is really draining me, I excuse myself politely "Oh my this is so embarrassing...I wish I could continue but I really need to take this... Let's catch up later."

Proceed by slowly disappearing from sight.

Few tricks I've learned

  • get over myself (nobody truly cares)
  • learn to accept my quirks and set boundaries
  • realize everyone is awkward (especially at a fair)
  • work on changing my personal paradigm (subconscious blocks, fears etc.)
0

In this instance I'd recommend reaching for the bottle. It's always appropriate in a professional work setting.

Start out on Whiskey, neat with ice and knock that stuff back as if the world is about to end. If you start to feel a little iffy from the alcohol, I'd recommend smoking the largest cigars you can get your hands on, inhale deep and often (even though cigar smoke isn't supposed to be inhaled). The cigars will take your mind off the alcohol for a short while, bonus points if you blow the smoke into the face of the person who noticed you haven't been attending work shindigs.

If you feel a little slow or sick after the alcohol and cigars, you can always try harder substances. The trick at work gatherings is to be so god awfully off the wall that you never get invited again. You should also try eating an onion and several cloves of garlic before arriving at the fair.

Seeing as though this is a fair you'll likely get brownie points with your colleagues if you release any animals in captivity, especially big cats with large teeth such as lions, tigers or cheetahs.

Failing this, simply go and chat to your colleagues. Try to get to know your more like minded colleagues a little better. Most people who drink at work gatherings do so as a light social lubricant. Most people aren't going to get smashed at a work party as it's unprofessional. Being coerced by colleagues or superiors is a little sleazy but hey, sometimes these things happen.

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    Wow. Although I am no teetotaler, and I don't think of those things so much as poisons as naturally occuring chemicals which must be used prudently and carefully — like everything else, — you really shouldn't be advising someone to consume such substances long-distance: The amount of care increases with the toxicity and thus the danger. You don't know the person or why they choose to abstain. Any thing employed functionally as a drug, when recommended that another person use such a drug, needs be accompanied with the same level of concern as the Hippocratic Oath requires. – can-ned_food Sep 6 '17 at 7:34
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    This answer was meant to be funny, not inflammatory, apologies for the confusion. The question is assumptive. Referring to it as a 'drink off event' is a very poor attitude being that it's most likely just a work socialising event. You're under no obligation to drink alcohol, smoke or do anything else to your body that you don't choose to. I would point out that many people struggle with addiction to alcohol and nicotine and having an assumptive attitude to them is not constructive. As Jasmine said DO NOT say that kind of thing to people who are drinking or smoking. – Daniel Lane Sep 6 '17 at 8:42
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    @DanielLane Why do you think this would be funny? Why do you think that's the sort of thing we would welcome here? People are looking for honest answers to the problems that they have. I don't understand why a joke answer (particularly one where you never "reveal" the joke) is acceptable. – Catija Sep 6 '17 at 15:33

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