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Do I have to play golf to break into the old boys' business world?

CINDERS McLEOD/The Globe and Mail


I was recently promoted to a sales role that requires maintaining an existing account. My communication skills are polished and I am strong at maintaining relationships. I am woman of Indian ethnicity. Our sales team is predominantly young white men.

At a recent company event, my boss was drunk and commented how he has run into clients inquiring whether I drink (yes) and whether I play golf (no). He lamented that I won't be able to maintain those relationships, but said he'll take care of 50 per cent of the work by continuing to golf with those contacts. I just laughed and said I needed golf lessons. It was an off-the-cuff remark on his part, but it cut deep; my confidence is a bit shaky. I'm resentful for being made to feel inadequate.

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Should I make an effort to fit in or should I charge ahead with confidence that, even in the existing account, I will find unexplored opportunities? Should I confront my boss or am I just going to have to contend with the fact that this is my weakness, and even if I give 100 per cent I will have to count on my boss to truly maintain business?


Greg Conner

Principal, Human Capital Dynamics, Victoria

A lot of business is done on the golf course. Right or wrong, it's where relationships are built and strengthened. Faced with that reality, why not look at it from the perspective that in every new job there are stages of development and training required? I would encourage you to take a couple of "it's part of the job" golf lessons and give it a good try.

Don't worry how well you play; the reality is that there are not many good golfers. With a couple of lessons (and a good supply of balls) you will play well enough to develop and close those deals – guaranteed. Golfers are social and everyone loves sharing advice and tips with those just learning. Carry a positive attitude out to the course and maybe you will find a new sport for life that also benefits your career. Not persuaded? Let me close this deal with a simple fact: In an average round of golf you will spend five hours with your client. As a sales person, who could ask for more?

If you really do not wish to play, start thinking about other ways to combine the social with business. Lunches and after-work social events are some ways to develop and deepen relationships. But remember, golf is the most accepted way to sneak out of the office on a sunny day!

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Rachel Weinstein

Executive coach, Toronto

Following a formula that's natural for others but awkward for you just positions you to lag behind. Challenge your doubts and create a plan for succeeding on your own terms.

Not yet able to picture the plan? Clearly, neither can your boss, and he's sabotaging you by saying it out loud. Call him on it ("It was hard to hear you publicly predict my failure before I've even started") and invite an open conversation about his concerns and your determination. He has offered to help by golfing with clients, but you might suggest how he can support you in ways that encourage your independence.

Embrace being different. Play to your strengths. You speak of your polished communication and solid relationship skills, so using these talents should be at the forefront of your success strategy. Consider what has worked for you in the past, and incorporate these tactics to establish your credibility.

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You have made the "old boys' club" the centre of your attention. Shift your focus to renewing your confidence and dedication, by reflecting on questions such as: What excites me about this new role? Why am I the right person to manage these relationships? Where are the opportunities to build these accounts? Concentrate not on fitting in, but on showcasing your strengths to generate results.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to

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