Monday, December 5, 2011

Life Lesson: Company Holiday Party Fail

Your company holiday party can be the most dreaded social event on your calender OR an awesome way to connect with co-workers and get some great face time with your boss.  This time of year, you'll find etiquette experts listing tips to make a great impression at these shindigs.  I have a lot of respect for these experts, what they teach is important, especially since most people lack in the manners department.  I have, however, read some of these articles and wondered what sort of parties are they going to?  Most of the tips focus on knowing the salad fork, how to shake someones hand and reminding you to write a hand written thank you note.  All great tips, but really?  How formal are these parties.  I can't remember a holiday party that ever involved a sit down meal.

Any corporate holiday party I've attended has been based around a bar, at either a local pub, trendy night spot or an executives home.  In any case, booze is your biggest culprit.  This post is geared toward my younger readers, as a heads up on how to navigate the night.  It's also a good reminder to the rest of us, because we all know inappropriate behavior doesn't just come from the young kids in the office. 

1.  Know your limits.  The truth is, nothing forms a bond faster or fills an awkward silence better than sharing a cocktail with someone.  So if you do enjoy a drink from time to time tonight is not the night to go dry.  It's also not the night to revisit your college years and scream "shots for all!"  Set a limit, one, maybe two, and be done with it.

2.  Fake drink.  When I was a young buyer, vendors would take our team out the night before a big meeting.  Most of the times, it was a bunch of guys and these guys wanted to party. As a young 20 something who knew better than to get into a compromising position I couldn't think of anything else to do.  I didn't want to come off uptight and I certainly didn't want them to find me sick in the bathroom.  Nothing was more annoying than the pressure to get another drink from a grown man I was doing business with.  I eventually learned to make nice with the bartender and asked them to make mine just cranberry juice.  I don't recommend this as a strategy, just keep it in your pocket in an emergency.

3.  Pick up the first round.  If you are going to a cash bar party (tacky, BTW) pick up the first round.  This does two things.  It shows you're a cool chick with enough class to know social "rules" AND it keeps you in control.  By doing this, you paid your dues, made a good impression and are not obligated to engage later on.  This also means you should get there early, or at least on time so you can get into position at the bar.  Make sure you close your tab after that round too.  Yours truly has been left with some hefty bar bills before I learned better.

4.  Get some time in with the head honcho.  A big part of my success has come from my ability to chat up everyone, including people of authority.  With that, I've found that talking to an "important" person like they are one of the gang can be incredibly effective, just do your research and know who you are dealing with.  At my last office job I was chummy with a few executives because I knew what they cared about.  So ask them about their kids, hobbies you know they like, the college they went to, etc.  Remember that everyone loves to talk about themselves.  You'll make a bigger impacting listening to them then rattling off next years projections.  Be casual and respectful. WARNING:  this approach does not work with what I call the "executive narcissist."  This is the person who expects you to and wants you to kiss their ass.  I generally avoided this person, my charm rarely works on them.

5.  Be mindful of time.  Whatever you do, do not monopolize your time with said honcho.  A few minutes and you are cool.  If you have the opportunity, be sure to gracefully end the conversation with an "it was so nice to speak with you" or "this is a great time, thanks."  Whatever you do, do not talk their ear off, you'll annoy him/her and the people around you.

6.  Be nice to everyone.  A great general rule that needs a reminder every now and then.  There is something about the whole office being out of the office - especially when there is booze involved -  that can lead to more drama than usual.  Women often feel the only way to get along is to engage in gossip or negative talk.  That's simply not true and dangerous to your career (and your moral code but that's another post).  Be neutral, be nice to the people you like and if there is someone there whose every move annoys you more than you knew possible, just be courteous.

7.  Under no circumstances do you, ever .... go out afterwards with this crowd.  Just a bad, bad, bad idea.  Trust me.

8.  Keep your love life to yourself.  I'm grateful to only speak from friends experiences and not that of my own on this one.  This all goes back to the booze and keeping it at a minimum.  You don't need to be doing the ugly cry, in the bathroom of a pub, over a Mr. Mr. in front of the EVP ... for instance.

9.  Be mindful of who you bring.  I'm married to the most easy going guy ever so I never worried about him making an ass of himself.  I did, however, worry about him being bored out of his mind so I rarely brought him to these dreadful things unless it specifically invited spouses.  I just felt like he was something else to manage, and he was cool with that.  I have witness some epically inappropriate behavior from significant others and friends that are talked about to this day.  The unfortunate reality is whomever you bring is a reflection on you, so if your significant other is a live wire or your best friend dresses like a stripper, you may reconsider inviting them along.

10.  Have cash on you.  For any number of reasons, like tipping the valet, bartender, waitress, splitting the bill (if that's the deal) and for the unexpected like having to park in a garage that doesn't take credit cards (I HATE that) or getting someone a cab when they've had too much holiday cheer.

When you spend most of your waking hours with the people at work it's hard not to get comfortable.  Maybe you love your coworkers.  Maybe you tolerate them because its a job with steady pay.  In any case, this could be a great casual networking opportunity, and a great way to form strong(er) relationships with the people on your team.  By keeping your wits about you, you can do that, have a great time and build your own positive reputation.