It's the holiday season and with that comes the annual office party. With the stress of work put on hold, wine flowing and the temptation to talk gossip, these functions can lead to tricky predicaments. You need to be careful, as etiquette mistakes can quickly put a damper on your career growth.
Here are seven tips for surviving the office party without winding up with eggnog on your face.
1. Eat something before the event. It's best to eat a little something before the function, so you aren't completely starving when you come to the party.
You're more likely to stay away from fatty foods like pot stickers or the beanie weenies. When you do decide to nibble on small bites, stay away from messy or difficult-to-eat foods (anything in a red sauce or on a bone) or large hors d'oeuvres that can't be eaten in one bite.
Another bonus of having food in your stomach? You won't get tipsy off alcohol as quickly, which can be a lifesaver when trying to schmooze with you bosses or network with colleagues.
2. Don't sit with your friends. Studies show that we tend to gravitate towards people who look like us, sound like us or dress like us. While you may want to find these folks at the event, try to step out of your comfort zone.
An office party is a chance to shine and mingle with those you don't see very often. It is also the perfect time to network with key employees at the office.
Do your homework and find out who will be attending the party. Have some conversation starters available. Most people love to talk about travel, food and hobbies.
3. Practice remembering names. The sweetest sound to someone's ear is his or her own name. When you meet someone new, repeat his name immediately after hearing it. Use the name a couple of times in conversation.
If you can't remember someone's name, say something like, "It's been one of those days. I know you’re Paul’s wife, but please tell me your name again." Or extend your hand and say your name. This will prompt the other person to say her name too.
4. Hold your glass in your left hand. For introductions, always keep your right hand free for handshaking, as no one likes to shake a cold, wet hand.
When conversing, avoid juggling your food and drink and don't talk with your mouth full of food.
Ladies, leave your large, cumbersome purses at home. They only get in the way. Carry a wristlet instead.
5. Choose your guest carefully. The person you bring to the party can reflect either positively or negatively on you. Follow the dress code and make sure your date does too. Save your most revealing outfit or your favorite pair of blue jeans and a t-shirt for another time. Keep it festive, yet professional.
6. Don't be a Debbie Downer. Though work topics are bound to come up, this is not the time to plan your company's next advertising campaign, talk about the recent layoffs or gossip about a co-worker's divorce. Keep the conversation light and positive. Be sure to include spouses, partners and guests in the conversation.
7. Be all there. A holiday party is a great time to get to know others on a personal level. Be engaged and don't spend a majority of the evening texting, talking on your cell phone, or posting photos on social media. Put people first and put your phone on silent.
What gaffes have you seen people make while attending office parties? Leave your comments below.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette coach and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. She is also the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).