You’ve been invited to your company’s holiday party. Do you jump for joy for the chance to cozy up to the boss or do you see it as a waste of time when you could be doing myriad things to celebrate the season? Worse still, do you feel clumsy making small talk without a little liquid courage? It’s a well-known fact that alcohol and career advancement don’t mix. Slurred speech and drunken dancing on tables can undermine your job security and damage your reputation.
The time-honored tradition of the holiday office party has taken on a new dimension of joyfulness or dread in post-pandemic times. In-person bonding and team building may be exhilarating or intimidating for remote workers who have been working from home in their pajamas for more than two years.
According to a recent survey by staffing firm Office Team, roughly a third of employees like holiday parties, one-third are indifferent, and the other third don’t like them at all.
One reason for the lack of enthusiasm for the year-end festivities is that making casual conversation with bosses and people outside your immediate work team can feel awkward. Some party poopers said they would rather stay home than feel forced to make meaningless small talk while a DJ blasts EDM.
Socializing face-to-face with the C-suite can be intimidating if you’re a junior or mid-level manager. Yet the natural inclination to stay within a clique of colleagues the entire time is not optimal if you seek to grow within your organization.
Professionals report that whether you love or hate them, these yearly events have had a positive impact on their careers. HR leaders agree that workers benefit from attending their company holiday functions.
Office parties are not just social events with free food and libations. They’re really work events disguised as social gatherings with all kinds of career-limiting land mines. Whether you’re naturally extroverted or introverted, the key is knowing how to be professional and have some fun at the same time. Here are nine tips to navigate company parties this season:
1. Show up
As Woody Allen said: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” If you’re invited, attend the party. RSVP and let the host or organizer know you arrived. See this as an opportunity to strengthen relationships and make new connections, whether you’re a newbie or a veteran of the company. Introduce yourself to people who can guide your growth and open doors to advancement.
2. Don’t hide in your smartphone
Business etiquette experts advise that you detach from your technology or risk being viewed as rude or self-involved. Put your device in your pocket or purse. If you’re standing by yourself with a glass of merlot in one hand and your iPhone in the other, resist the urge to hide in your TikTok feed. Challenge yourself to make eye contact with a stranger (who may be in a corner like you) and start a conversation. However, do use your device to exchange digital contact information through a QR code or app such as Linq, HiHello or Popl.
3. Be a good listener
People love to talk about themselves. Get them talking with open-ended questions that begin with “what,” “why,” and “how” rather than ones that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.” Instead of asking if they like their job, ask about the challenges they faced in 2022. Be interested, not just be interesting. Let them do the talking and be ready with follow-up questions. For example, ‘Tell me more…” expresses curiosity about what you’ve just heard in a simple way that keeps the conversation going.
4. Set a networking goal
The anticipation of striking a conversation with a stranger is nerve-wracking, particularly for introverts. Yet, cozying up with people you know all night doesn’t serve your career advancement prospects. Set a goal of two, three, or more new contacts with whom you have a meaningful exchange and follow up after the holidays.
5. Speak with authority
When speaking with high-ranking executives, use the language of authority. Extend your hand, state your name with a smile, and eye contact. Don’t say, “I’m Rosemary from PR.” Instead, speak about what and how you contribute to the organization. For example, “I’m Rosemary Ravinal, and I led the global communications campaigns for the year’s top product launches.” Without fawning, thank the CEO for their leadership, which contributed to the success of your own efforts.
6. Stay positive
It’s tempting to express grievances, particularly after your second glass of merlot. Avoid getting into a gripe session about topics such as downsizing, resignations, burnout, and work-life balance. Keep discussions warm and positive. Inquire about business and personal achievements, successes, and their best memories of 2022. Ask what they’re looking forward to in the year ahead.
7. Say their name
Every time you use a person’s name, they feel valued and respected. It’s a sign of courtesy and good social etiquette. A famous quote from Dale Carnegie is, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Say the person’s name at the beginning and the end of your conversation.
8. Bow out gracefully
You’ll know when it’s time to move on to another conversation. It doesn’t have to feel clumsy or impolite. You can exit the one-on-one or group conversation with, “I’ve really enjoyed meeting/catching up with you. Enjoy the rest of the evening, and have a wonderful holiday season.” Make it sincere. Add a smile and eye contact.
9. Express gratitude
Without sounding obsequious, speak about what you admire about your co-workers, leaders, or the company’s direction over the past year. Say it to them directly or say it to others. Gratitude is one of the most bonding and life-affirming human values. Acknowledge someone’s help, guidance, moral support, and friendship. Give thanks for the small and big things that are going well in your life. The practice of gratitude will yield benefits for 2023 and beyond.
What you say and how you say it matters. Business-related holiday gatherings can be stressful. Yet you can turn them into robust opportunities to hone the professional communication skills that are the foundation of leadership. Have fun and enjoy the ride.