askST Jobs: My colleagues invited me for drinks after work. What conversation topics are appropriate?

Don't be afraid to ask who is going to attend your little gathering, and find out more about them, say experts. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

In this series, manpower correspondent Calvin Yang offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career.

Q: I'm a few months into a new job. My colleagues invited me for drinks after work - and I warily said "yes". What should I take note of?

A: So you have decided to go for after-work drinks with your new colleagues. Now what?

First, do your homework - a bit like going on a first date.

Don't be afraid to ask who is going to attend your little gathering, and find out more about them, say experts.

Since you are fairly new to the company, it wouldn't seem too out of the ordinary to pose these questions to your colleagues. Who knows, they may be happy to talk!

For instance, co-worker A could be the notorious office gossip, co-worker B likes to chat about her pet dog Lucky, co-worker C rambles and cannot seem to stop talking, and co-worker D follows a strict vegetarian diet.

These little nuggets of information could come in handy when there is a painfully long and awkward silence. You could also save yourself the trouble of unknowingly provoking someone.

Another big question: Is your boss coming?

Sure, he may be fun and entertaining outside of work. But always show respect and be careful not to cross the line, experts stress.

After all, he is still your boss and you do not want to end up in his bad books. Some superiors might take offence at what you say or do - or perhaps what you didn't say or do.

What conversation topics are appropriate depends on whether you are close to those present.

If you are unsure because you are new to the group, let them lead the conversations, says NeXT Career Consulting Group managing director Paul Heng.

It is best to steer clear of controversial topics such as politics, religion and sexuality.

Topics such as food, shows, travel, hobbies and weekend plans are fine, but one needs to be careful not to be a show-off.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser says: "Have a good sense of the situation, find out what topics the colleagues are interested in, and chip in here and there, without giving the impression of being a know-all, and be a good listener, while maintaining a presence."

While it is a social event, try to limit your alcohol intake.

You do not want the embarrassing situation of vomiting, appearing unruly, or requiring a colleague to look after you. Worse still, you do not want to be caught making insensitive remarks about your co-workers.

Regardless of whether you are new to the group or have known them for some time, impression still matters - and sticks - in the workplace.

Finally, end the session by thanking your colleagues for inviting you and add that you had an enjoyable time.

All in all, there is no need to feel obliged to tag along for these sessions. After-work activities are largely for bonding, but these do not count towards your work performance.

Some people treat work as work, and draw clear lines between co-workers and friends, says PeopleWorldwide Consulting managing director David Leong.

And in any case, your colleagues should not make you feel bad about skipping out.

Have a question? Send it to askst@sph.com.sg

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