That’s a good question. And one I’m often asked. Off the top of my head I can remember the following cases:
“We’re hosting the European sales meeting this year. And, of course, we’re all supposed to be going out for dinner every evening. It’s not as if I’m really needed – the rest of the German team are happy to go – and I’ve got children at home who I’ll hardly see all week.”
“I’m travelling to Spain to meet a potential new customer. To be honest we really need this contract. I’d prefer to get down to business straightaway. But they’re in no hurry. First they’ve planned lunch for when I arrive.”
“I’m holding a 2-day workshop next week. I always have the same problem: at the end of the first day the group wants to spend the evening together. But I’m exhausted. I need a good night’s sleep so that I’m in top form on the second day.”
Do you recognize yourself there? I certainly know exactly how they feel. I’m someone who would prefer to spend the evening after a workshop or conference in my hotel room with a book, than at a restaurant.
What’s more, if you’ve got young children, a night out with the team in the middle of the week isn’t a treat –it’s a disruption to your routine and can be stressful. And I can understand the pressure on sales managers, too – they’re expected to get the business and then move on to the next customer.
Yes, you do.
I wish I could say: “No you don’t need to go out to dinner with them. Go back to your hotel and relax.” Or: “Let the others go for dinner, while you spend the time with your family instead.”
But I’m afraid I can’t.
Meetings like this are for building relationships, too.
If your team is spread around Europe or the world, face-to-face meetings offer valuable opportunities for getting to know each other. You can do this to a certain extent during the day – but then business issues are often to the fore.
Spending the evening together in a more relaxed atmosphere, talking about more personal topics, laughing together – that’s something different. So if you skip dinner, the other members of the team may get the impression that you’re not really interested in them. Perhaps even that you don’t like them.
If you invest time now it’ll save you time in the future. If you know each other a little better, work is likely to run more smoothly. For example, it’s easier to ask someone you know a favour. Colleagues are more likely to get back to you if they don’t quite understand your email – and avoid wasting time doing the wrong thing.
A big plus: If they like you they’ll cut you more slack. So if you hit the wrong note in an email and your request comes across as an order, chances are the recipient will see it for what it is – just a language problem.
It’s not always business first
In Germany (and not only there, of course,) people do business with each other and the relationship grows over time .They get to know and trust each other through the business. In other countries there needs to be a relationship, before you can do business. And this relationship is built by spending time together and getting to know each other by talking about family, interests, …. anything but business.
That can feel uncomfortable at first. And it may seem like a waste of precious time. But it’s really not. Because if you fail to build a relationship with a new customer there may well be no deal. Then you’ll have wasted your time visiting the customer in the first place. In these situations you need to forget the German saying “Erst die Arbeit, dann das Vergnügen” and follow your business partner’s lead.
It’s not just about your qualifications
Your emphasis is on doing your job well. And to do this you need to be well-prepared and you need to have had a good night’s sleep. So after giving it all you’ve got during the first day of the workshop, you’re probably intending to have a look at the plan for the next day, or run though your presentation, and then go to bed.
But for the participants it’s not just about your experience and expertise, they want to get to know you as a person, too.
How do you square a night in the pub with your standards of professionalism? Perhaps it helps you to remember that knowing the group better can help you do your job better. For example, if you know a little more about your participants you can tailor the contents to them, picking examples that fit. And it’s much easier to talk about any problems that arise in the group if you know each other better, if you can imagine why a certain participant is reacting the way he is.
So, why not make that extra effort? Relax, enjoy the food, get to know one or two people a little better. After all, you don’t have to stay until midnight. 😉