Q: I went to a business event and was looking forward to meeting new people, making contacts and handing out business cards. I am a 38-year-old practicing attorney who has recently gone out on my own, so I was counting on socializing for business purposes and not spending too much time with any one person.
When I walked in, the room had already filled up and quickly became packed like a sardine can. At 6 feet 2 inches, I stand over most people, so crowded rooms do not bother me. I am comfortable talking with people and always professional, but I was shocked by what happened that evening.
The room became overcrowded so moving around was extremely difficult, even though I am tall. Everyone was pressed up against others, and in front of me was a petite woman. I am married with children and am completely loyal to my wife. I also happen to be good-looking, but I never am sexually suggestive in any conversation, because I am not naive to people who twist situations. I love my wife and am excited to go home and play with my children. In short, I take my family life seriously, and it's a joyful commitment. So here is what this woman in business dress did.
She introduced herself and started to make personal conversation that immediately seemed odd. She carefully looked me over and asked if I was Catholic. I was taken aback, but I politely and seriously replied that I was, though I didn't really practice Catholicism anymore. She then hit me with an outrageous statement that embarrassed me and left me silent. I am rarely shocked into silence. She said loudly: "I thought you were. I am Jewish, but I have always been attracted to Catholics. Would you like to go out?"
Everyone around us heard her. I generally look down, since I am taller than most people and certainly taller than most women, but because of the crowd, my eyes had nowhere to go. I looked directly at her and told her I was married with children and was not interested, but we stood there silently staring at each other because no one could move through the crowd.
I know people can meet potential dates at any kind of event, but this event was sponsored by a company for the purpose of business. Now everyone in earshot had heard both of us in this off-color comment. I could not push through the crowd to change locations, nor could I talk to someone else near me after she put that kind of a comment out there. I felt like a boy-toy at a sleazy bar and not an attorney at a business event. I left soon after. What could I have said to immediately change the conversation and end the awkwardness?
A: The woman thought she was flattering you, but her comment was inappropriate, crass and nonsensically stereotyping — "attracted to Catholics." Replace the word "Catholics" with any group and hear how appalling a statement it is, which is likely what shocked you at that moment. Perhaps she was so attracted to you she put her brain in park, forgetting she was on a highway.
You didn't make any contacts, but you learned something about people. A person who behaves oddly will bring that behavior to any event, and your goal is to prepare for the best, but don't be overwhelmed by the unexpected. Always plan a polite and quick getaway.
The next time you're approached at a business or personal event with an outlandish remark or invitation thrown at you, explain you are happily married and wish the woman (or man) the best. Then excuse yourself despite whatever crowd is surrounding you so you do not leave yourself open for further comments by the person.
For your next networking event — don't rule them out because of this — consider being among the first to arrive so you can greet people as they enter and decide whomever you wish to approach for more conversation.
Email your questions to workplace expert Lindsey Novak at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @I_truly_care. To find out more about Lindsey Novak and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Website at www.creators.com.