How to Successfully Navigate
the Holiday Party

holiday party

Your company’s CEO is coming toward you but your mouth is full of crab cake and you can’t say hello, or the head of the department you want to work in comes up to the bar and you blurt out, “Another round already?”

It’s that time of year. Whether you’re the type that breaks out the Christmas sweater and begs your colleagues to join you in karaoke Jingle Bells, or wants to call in sick the day of the holiday party, you’ll want to get the most out of the season.

If you want to have fun, network, and not completely embarrass yourself, use these tips to navigate the holiday party.

  1. Yes, you do have to go to the party. And go to any other party you are invited to this month. The informal networking you can do during the holidays can be great for your career.
  2. You would think people would know better, but there are still those who drink too much and make a scene at office parties. It doesn’t matter if other people are pounding drinks or if you work at a hip start-up, you are still at work. If you expect to drink, be sure to eat something before you go to the party so you won’t have an empty stomach. Set a drink limit before you go, and stick to it.
  3. Leave your spouse home, or manage expectations. A lot of people won’t agree with this, but it can be harder to mingle if you are focused on your husband or girlfriend having a good time. Much depends on your office culture or if your spouse already knows your colleagues, but if you do bring someone, be sure your guest will be comfortable mingling and don’t stay glued to together through the evening.
  4. Have your elevator pitch ready.  A more relaxed version of your pitch can ease you into a conversation with new people, and help the person you meet engage more quickly in a conversation with you.
  5. Talk to a lot of people.  You can talk to the guy in the next cubicle every day, but this might be the only chance you have to meet the manager of the design department or the head of IT. You might even make a list—in your head or on paper—of people you would like to be meet, catch up with, or even thank for all their help this year. Include: Your boss, clients, folks you only work with through email, and those you might have a rocky relationship with–what better time to improve the relationship with a friendly attitude?
  6. Thank your CEO and department head. If you don’t already know your CEO, introduce yourself, and be sure to offer a quick thanks for the party.
  7. Be authentic. This is not the time to bring up your issues or even that great business idea. It is a party, not a job interview. Show your social intelligence by asking a question or sharing a comment, and let the higher up take the lead. You likely won’t have much time, so make an impression with your presence, and move on.
  8. Do not ask for anything. This is not the time to run into a department head and say, hey, about that raise…
  9. Avoid politics, religion, personal questions, and depressing topics. While small talk about current events can made good conversation, choose your topics wisely. Steer clear of anything controversial, or difficult subjects such as terrorism, Ebola, or anything that can affect people’s moods or bring up emotional reactions. If someone else brings up a touchy issue, you don’t have to follow that lead. Nod, change the subject, or excuse yourself.
  10. Ask questions. The best way to get over the idea that you are an introvert, or that you hate networking, or that parties are horrible things you have to do, is to take the focus off yourself. Ask people questions–nothing too personal–to get the conversation going. Whether it is about someone’s work, if they like the crab cakes, or where they got that Santa Claus tie, it doesn’t matter.
  11. Be grateful. Reminding yourself of the good things about your work, your colleagues, and your job–and the fact that you are even at a party–can quickly brighten your mood. It is a holiday, after all.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and, among others.