Experts say you should generally attend professional events, but be prepared if you think you might get a hostile reaction
Donald and Melania Trump are sick of the attention.
That, at least, is the stated reason why the President and First Lady won’t be showing up at the Kennedy Center Honors dinner this year. For four decades, the Washington-based performing arts institution has held an annual dinner to celebrate American artists, and presidents of both parties have almost always attended. But this time, the Trumps say they’re staying away– and cancelling a planned White House reception for the event– because their presence might be a “political distraction.”
But some pundits say the First Couple might be avoiding the occasion because they’re expecting a hostile reaction. Honorees like Lionel Richie and Carmen de Lavallade have threatened a boycott of the event if the Trumps show up. The arts community has always leaned liberal, but partisan divides have been more defined in recent years. Just last week, all 17 members on the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, an official White House department that includes actor Kal Penn and author Jhumpa Lahiri, resigned with a protest letter that went viral.
— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) August 18, 2017
This is not the first time the Trumps have skipped a notable event that American commanders-in-chief typically attend. Earlier this year, he declined to grace the White House Correspondents Dinner, an occasion he had some history with. In 2011, Trump was roasted by his predecessor, Barack Obama; a move that some say led to him seeking the White House.
For everyone else however, career coaches advise not skipping work events even if they make you feel uncomfortable. It may a dinner honoring a colleague you don’t get along with, but “my belief is that you should suck it up and take the high road,” says Roy Cohen, author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.”
Indeed, you should look at such events as an offshoot of work and thus, you’re not necessarily meant to enjoy it. “When you’re attending an office party, the key word is ‘office,’” says Julie Blais Comeau, a Canadian etiquette expert. “Generally, you should always attend”– as there could well be professional ramifications if you choose not to go.
“Are you going to shine by your absence and are people going to interpret your absence as a lack of respect?” she says. “If your employer is requesting you go to an event, you should generally go.”
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be a hypocrite at such occasions. “You can stay low-profile, which means not saying much,” says Cohen, adding that you don’t necessarily have to stay for the entire event once your presence has been noted. “Just don’t look like you’re unhappy to be there.”
If you know there might be unpleasantness at such events, it’s wise to prepare. That can mean having a measured response ready if and when a snide remark is sent your way. “You can say things like ‘I’m choosing to attend to honor this person and I don’t feel this is the appropriate time for a discussion’,” says Blais Comeau, author of “Etiquette: Confidence and Credibility.”
And do so confidently, even if you feel awkward just being there. “When we feel hostility, we often react by hunching over– it’s the flight or fight mechanism,” she says. “But you should maintain eye contact, not touch the person and not point at them. Don’t fake it, but try to be in tune with the person.”
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