6 Tips to Survive Your Holiday Office Party

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: December 4, 2012

Office Holiday Parties Can be Minefields

With its booze, year-long pent-up emotions towards co-workers, the specter of organizational politics, various inter-office rivalries and the "secret" cubicle farm romance everyone knows about, the annual company holiday party has all the explosive potential of an open fire in a dynamite factory.

That hasn’t slowed the party train yet. New data from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement consulting organization, indicates more companies are holding holiday celebrations this year. Despite economic uncertainty, 72.4% are planning to party in 2012 vs. only 67.9% last year.

Any gathering that mixes free alcohol with people at all points on the organizational chart is inherently fraught with potential for CLMs (career-limiting-moves). A healthy dose of self-awareness, a plan, and the willingness to go beyond your comfort-zone -- in the right direction -- can turn a fraught forum into an opportunity to push your career to new heights.

6. Have a Personal Branding Statement

Come to the party prepared. Don’t sit by and assume your work will speak for itself. Clarifying your personal brand and communicating it exactly the way you want can help you stand out among equally ambitious peers who are still trying to figure it out. 

Ask yourself what value you bring to people. Not just your job description, but how others personally benefit from working with you. Do you save them time, money? Do you fix problems? Do you remove obstacles that get in the way of people’s productivity? 

Reflect on your most unique attributes and qualities that can make a difference in others' lives. Then, craft a short statement that gives others a glance into who you really are and why they should remember you.

5. Project the Proper Status

Without the helpful restraints of a corporate uniform, some workers think an after-business-hours event is an excuse to demonstrate their "gangsta-chic" or individual sartorial taste. Instead, think James Bond as opposed to Bail Bondsman. 

There is a reason why Bond has worn a tuxedo at society events for decades. It looks great, has just the right touch of mystery, and doesn’t scream amateur. If black tie isn't required, opt for a navy blue or black suit or conservative cocktail dress. If a finer version is not financially feasible, a cheaper suit doesn’t have to look like the lining of a more expensive one. A good tailor can make a big difference towards making a potential boss look like the real thing.    

Status expresses itself through more than clothes. A firm and brief handshake and a sincere smile with genuine eye contact can make an instant impression. So can a limp wet squeeze and fake grin. Hence, always go for option A. 

If you’re socially savvy, suggest a toast to your fellow partiers and tell an anecdote or two that makes people laugh or think. The secret is being engaging, approachable and aware of your personal power.

4. Show Your Warmer Side

Perhaps social intelligence is not your strong suit and you've rightfully earned a reputation as b*tch or a b***ard over the past eleven months. A line from the Cruise/Cruz movie Vanilla Sky might offer a little inspiration: "Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around." 

Decide to engage on a human level and show some humility. Social science research tells us that humility is a key leadership trait and showing some genuine warmth and interest in others can start off the New Year with a little less resistance and better vibes in the office.

3. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

If your default position at parties is typically somewhere between the facilities and the punch-bowl, make efforts to move to the front -- or wherever the action is, and test drive your personal branding.

Start by approaching the nearest person who looks like the Grinch’s less lovable brother and offer a toast to the holidays. Make it your personal mission to turn that frown upside down. Practicing your unflappable charm on Guy Smiley or the DJ doesn’t count. Attempting to change someone’s mood for the better is a noble cause that makes you a more resilient conversationalist. If it fails, you’ll still feel good for trying.

2. Skip the Small Talk

Moving through the discomfort of approaching someone you don’t normally interact with shouldn’t turn you into the tragically awkward Ralphie Wiggam from The Simpsons. When he tries to flirt with his brilliant schoolmate Lisa Simpson, he asks, "So, um...do you like...stuff?," in the most pathetic gambit ever.  

When meeting someone new, Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of behavioral Economics at Duke University, writes, "We try to achieve a delicate balance between expressing ourselves, learning about the other person, but also not offending anyone -- favoring friendly over controversial -- even at the risk of sounding dull."

So instead, get real and ask people questions that get an interesting discussion going. Keep it friendly, know when to back off, and understand that there are often very good reasons why someone holds a certain belief or value. Use the conversation to discover viewpoints different from your own. You may find that substantive dialogue can earn you respect from colleagues you don’t know very well.

1. Forget Office Politics for the Night

As I’ve mentioned in my book 360 Degrees of Influence “Rex C. Mitchell, Ph.D., Professor at the Department of Management at California State University observes that organizational politics, while neutral until touched by human perception, are usually viewed by players and observers alike as a negative; the common perception being that organizations should work to minimize politicking. For those of us with a keen political awareness, however, the importance of communication via sympathetic belief systems and shared goals is a part of organizational life that is ignored -- or dismissed as manipulation -- at one’s professional peril.”

Though we really can’t escape the influence of office politics, we could find ourselves experiencing the worst of it by focusing on the negatives. A study by the UBC Sauder School of Business study shows that people who are worried about gossip or feel they’re being rejected or ignored at the office actually tend to focus on that kind of perceived feedback, turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Approach others with a new mind-set and use the occasion to learn about them in ways that were previously not on your radar. You may just discover something about their own insecurities at the office.

Going for a Holiday Bonus?

Plenty of company holiday parties this year -- as every year -- will see people gamble with their careers and reputations. Those who know how to stack the deck in their favor can establish their reputation as a serious player for the new year. So if you want to be taken seriously when asking for a raise over the holidays, you need Salary.com.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.