Tips for Conquering Your Office Holiday Party

Image courtesy of Flickr/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District

It is the season of the office holiday party, an event portrayed by earnest bloggers as career-risking events to be survived rather than enjoyed. How wrong they are! Here are my annual tips, first published in 2012, with a few new ones thrown in for good measure. Follow my instructions; you will have fun, score a few points with your boss and will leave your lame, wimped-out colleagues in the dust of your fabulous career.

This is the time of year when you will be flooded with online advice on what NOT to do at your office party. If you follow the tips to the letter, you avoid the possibility of having to clean out your cubicle the next day. You also miss a great opportunity to show the boss you have a little personality — and score major points over your more timid and docile competitors. So, ignore everything else you read and follow these tips on how not to fade into the wallpaper at your holiday party.

  1. Talk to the spouse of your boss. I don’t mean just mumble “high, nice to meet you” while staring at your Johnston and Murphy's. Really talk — there is something he or she is passionate about, and it is your job to find it and obsess over it with the spouse. No matter how soul-crushing it may be.
  2. Wear one go-to-hell item. If it is formal attire, throw on a Kris Kringle bow tie along with the black tux. Or a candy cane pocket square. Some snappy, vintage wool tartan pants look good with a blue blazer for business casual, or the same in skirt and sweater for women. If you are a bit “husky” and really funny by nature, toss on a Santa hat. You get the idea. WARNING: The rule is only ONE go-to-hell item per outfit. More than that you look like a municipal-course golfer in Toledo. Not good.
  3. Listen to every word the boss utters.See Rule No. 1. Really listen. The key to making an impression is not to drone on about your interests outside of work, like Madden football or online poker, but to let the boss impress you with hers. Even if you barely say a word other than to encourage her storytelling, she’ll walk away thinking you have bonded because of your shared interest in African butterflies.
  4. Bring a cigar in your pocket.Even if you never touch tobacco, at some point you might be standing outside and some senior partner will be grumbling about the no-smoking fascists in the office. Present him with the stogie for a present. He’ll remember you.
  5. Don't worry about throwing a few back. Most people offering advice about office parties are freaked out by the topic of drinking, as though being in the mere presence of an open bar will turn you into a Kappa Sig on spring break. I assume you are quite seasoned at this point about alcohol and what your tolerance limits are, so just play by your normal rules — as long as your normal rules don't involve tequila shots. A little taste of the grape is a social lubricant, and being able to make small talk is essential at the holiday party, so go ahead as long as you have Uber on your cell. If you don't drink at all, that's cool, but liven things up if your boss presses you to imbibe. Sometimes a good back story is helpful: "Sorry, boss, but I promised the Big Padre in the Sky I'd keep away from hooch if he got me out of that jam back in Tampico." That'll work, and is darkly intriguing to boot.
  6. Talk about religion and politics.This is for when you are stuck with a couple of your boring peers. If you want to escape, launch into some rant about how we should tax dogs, or adopt the Mayan calendar for Daylight Saving Time. They’ll think you’re crazy and walk off, giving you more time for sucking up to the boss.

I hope you’ll find these ideas helpful. I know you won’t find them anywhere else in the human resources blogosphere. Have fun, and send me your holiday party stories!