Surviving the Office Holiday Party

Dec. 11, 2009
Office holiday parties are opportunities to meet people, mingle and make small talk. These parties also can be an opportunity to advance your career – or limit it. Professor Martin M. Antony, Ph.D., of Ryerson University’s Department of Psychology, offers a few tips to ensure this year’s holiday party goes smoothly.

Making Conversation

• Reach out to someone. Smile. Make eye contact. Be approachable. Be open to conversation.
• Give compliments. Offer someone else a compliment, but make sure you are honest and don’t overdo it. If you receive one in return and feel uncomfortable, just say “Thank you.” Don’t discount the praise by telling the person all the reasons why you don’t deserve it.
• Join an ongoing conversation. At a party, it is perfectly appropriate to join an ongoing conversation. People often walk about, moving in and out of different conversations. See if you can join in with a group of people who are discussing something that interests you.
• Have some topics of conversation prepared, but make sure to actually listen to the other person rather than rehearsing what you’ll say next.
• Ask questions. Be curious and intrigued about other people and their lives and interests.
• Be positive. People respond better to positive statements than negative.
• Use active listening skills. Reflect back that you understand what the other person is saying. Paraphrase what they say, ask for clarification and provide feedback.
• Try to talk about things other than work. Take the opportunity to get to know people on a personal level.
• Include your guest in conversations if he or she is shy or doesn’t know anyone. Try bringing them into the conversation by finding common interests. Stick to neutral topics, and avoid religion and politics.

A Word of Caution

• Not attending the office party is bad form. You want to look like a team player. Your absence will be noted and could come back to haunt you at review time. Consider the party an official work function and attend.
• Research the dress code before you go. Ask the organizer or someone who went to last year’s party. When in doubt, err on the conservative/formal side. Avoid showing too much skin.
• When you’re the guest at the office party, remember you are a reflection of your host. Compliment them, don’t upstage them and don’t embarrass them.
• Alcohol and office parties can be a bad mix. Pace yourself. Eat food and alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones in order to maintain control.

Advancement Moves

• Shake hands with your boss and other senior managers and wish them a happy holiday season. Make sure that your boss sees you at the holiday party, and also remembers speaking with you. When it comes time for promotions, your boss is likely to pick a pleasant individual who seems happy to be at the company.
• Office parties are opportunities to cultivate new relationships, but you need more than one conversation. Use the party as a starting point and follow up with colleagues after the party with additional social events.
• Remember to say goodnight and thank you to the most senior person in attendance, the party organizer and your boss, before you leave.

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