Illustration by Andrew Benson
You’ve been waiting for the office Christmas party. This is your chance to prove to your co-workers that you can cut loose. You and your colleagues are going to finally bond over a few drinks – and whatever hell may come. Who cares what happens – you can pick up the pieces the next morning.
Wait. Stop. That is not the way you should approach the workplace Christmas party. This is an event fraught with danger. From bad manners to over-lubrication, something that happens at a Christmas party can brand you as a troublemaker in the workplace – and those perceptions can be awfully hard to shake.
We consulted Jeannie Vaage, an etiquette expert and owner of VIP Protocol, about the dos and don’ts of the Christmas party. She’s worked with many large companies in the city as well as MPs and MLAs, and says, “If you’re looking to let loose, the office party is not the place to do it. This is not like a party you’d go to with your pals.”
So, how do you survive the party? Here’s some advice from Vaage:
EAT SOMETHING BEFORE YOU GO
You get to the party, and your stomach is rumbling. You double-fist the canapés. And, because your body craves sugar, you down a couple of cocktails on an empty stomach, setting you on a path towards being the embarrassing drunk.
Vaage says that you should always eat something before you arrive — a candy bar or a sandwich will keep you from going crazy at the bar or with the snacks. This holds true even if you’re going to a dinner party; remember that the dinner usually comes after a cocktail hour — and the meal is rarely served on time.
First, know who will be at the party. Will your boss be there with his or her family? Will your clients be there? Find out something about them. Vaage says it can be a good idea to use LinkedIn, particularly for networking events, which will help you with the who’s who at the party — and so you can match names with faces.
“You should say your hellos to CEOs and their spouses at the beginning of the night,” she says. “Don’t wait till the end of the night.”
When you introduce yourself, use your full name. Don’t just use your first name. Say where you work. Graciously introduce your plus-one.
We’ve all been there. You’re introduced to someone at a party, and then there’s the awkward silence. You don’t know what to talk about. Vaage says it’s good to come prepared with some small-talk starters. Ask people about their families or their vacation plans.
DON’T CHERRY PICK
You go ahead and introduce yourself to the CEO and reacquaint yourself with your biggest clients. But, you blow off the receptionist or the cleaning staff. Remember that you’re perceived by how you treat everyone around you, not just a select few.
“You can wear a $2,000 suit but that doesn’t mean that you cut it,” says Vaage.
Make sure to make time for as many people as possible. People can see the person who right through the person who follows the boss around all night long.
KEEP IT TOGETHER
“Always remember that you should always be presenting yourself like you’re asking for a promotion,” says Vaage. “Pretend that, the next day, that you’ll be asking a boss for a raise. Don’t fall for the image of being the person who wears the ugly sweater to the party.”
So, remember that being wild and crazy has repercussions. There is no cheat night. Why do CEOs always leave parties so early? It isn’t because they don’t like their staff — it’s because they know the longer the party goes, the more drinks that flow, the more likely something stupid will happen. And that’s not a good scene.
IT’S A PARTY
And, one last thing. The Christmas party is not a place to give out business cards, says Vaage. It’s a place to wish people a happy holiday season.
You’ve gone to group to group at the office party, making your toasts and saying your hellos. You’ve exhausted all the usual icebreakers. You can only use “How about them Oilers?” so many times, after all.
From Jeannine Vaage, here are six icebreakers.
Vaage says that others will be relieved that you’ve started the conversation. You’ll be respected and admired. And, if someone else starts the conversation, be engaging. “Try to avoid yes or no answers yourself,” she says.