03/09/2012 01:07 pm ET Updated May 09, 2012

Networking: Should You Do It If You're Sick?

Should you network while sick? I got this question from a reader of my blog, Corporette, very recently:

I haven't seen this covered in your advice column and have just bumbled my way through a client meeting while heavily drugged with Sudafed and wanted your take on what a better approach would be.

I work in medium law, we have major corporate clients that come in once a year or so. As a mid-level associate, I get to attend small luncheons with the individuals handling the files I work on. Of course, the day before they arrive I come down with a horrible cold. Not the death flu or anything, more of an "I can work through this but I sound horrible" cold. I made it through the lunch trying to minimize sniffling and throat clearing and maximize hand sanitizing, but should I have backed out once I realized I was sick? Even if that means missing out on an opportunity to develop the client relationship?

Fabulous question. We've talked about working while you're sick, but not on networking while sick. Ultimately I think it depends on the relationship -- as well as how sick you are (does "sneezing violently" enter the picture? how many tissues do you need by your side to get through lunch? are you 100 percenet positive it's just a head cold and not something more contagious?) -- but I'm really of two minds:

A) You're a big girl, and you know when you're too sick to network. If you're up for it, and taking reasonable precautions that you're not getting them sick as well (and to me, this means you should avoid shaking hands while sick), carry on. I will say that being "heavily drugged with Sudafed" might suggest you weren't up for it, but then I have an odd dislike of any drugs that make you drowsy. (I normally just take an Advil and a store-brand decongestant when I'm congested, in part because the combo doesn't make me drowsy.)

B) Well ... it's a bit rude, isn't it, to go to lunch without at least warning the client that you're sick, right? How about at least a head's up to them, as you're making lunch plans -- something along the lines of, "I'm so looking forward to discussing __ and getting to know you and the company better over lunch. I should warn you, I've got a little head cold, but I'm up for it if you are!" Some people may have suppressed immune systems (the elderly, the pregnant), others may just be weird about colds.

If you do go through with the meeting while sick, do an extra bit of work to make sure the meeting goes well despite your foggy head. For example, before the meeting, make a list of three things (and only three!) that you want to accomplish or learn about during the meeting. Take copious notes for yourself after the meeting, including things that you might remember otherwise (such as the name of Client's husband). I'd also suggest following up with the client afterwards to make sure you both agree about any action items, as well as anything else that might not have been covered. (For example: "Dear Jane -- I'm so glad we got to talk more over lunch on Tuesday! Just to review, I'm now going to do Y and Z, and you'll be looking into A and B for me (thank you for that). Was there anything else we didn't cover that you wanted to, or any other questions I can answer for you?")

How do you handle networking and client development when you're sick?

Subscribe to the In(formation) email.
The reality of being a woman — by the numbers.