Surviving the Office Holiday Party With Your Job and Dignity Intact

It's the most wonderful time of the year. And yet, when that office holiday party rolls around, we sometimes feel less "full of good cheer" and more "full of gut-twisting anxiety." Nobody wants to be the subject of conversation at next year's party, after all. So we put together this psychology-backed guide to surviving the season, whether you're a wallflower who'd rather stay home or a party animal at risk of getting too jolly.

The Introvert's Guide to Holiday Parties

Between all of the people, all of the small talk, and, oh yeah, the fact that your boss is watching, the office holiday party can push all of an introvert's buttons in all the wrong ways. If you find yourself in that boat, fret not. These tips will help you get through the night with your sanity — and your social reputation — intact.

Yes, You Have to Go

It's easy for an introvert to pass on holiday party invitations — in fact, it's probably a good idea not to bite off more social interactions than you can chew. But when it comes to the office party, the fact is that it's a work event first and a social engagement second. If your excuse isn't good enough to take the day off work, it's not good enough to miss the office party. In short, you have to go, and you have to at least look like you're having a good time.

Come Prepared

Small talk can be a major challenge, especially with casual acquaintances you only know from the cafeteria. So before the party, prepare yourself with some methods to keep the conversation flowing. Make a list of questions to ask your coworkers — "Where did you go for your last vacation?" is a good one — and be ready with follow-ups as well. According to Harvard researchers, asking people a lot of questions about themselves is a great way to make a good impression in a short amount of time. (The FORD method can also help you jump-start a conversation.)

Bring Back-Up

If the party allows a plus-one, you should absolutely take advantage of that. Having a close friend or a significant other to back you up can reduce a lot of the anxiety associated with interacting with acquaintances en masse. Just try not to let your guest do all of the heavy social lifting for you — instead, talk about your fears and anxieties with them ahead of time, and come up with a plan to help you put your best foot forward in front of the leadership team. Also, make sure you let your person know that you appreciate their help. The only thing more awkward than your own office party is somebody else's.

The Extrovert's Guide to Holiday Parties

But maybe all of the above just doesn't apply to you. Maybe you can't wait for the holiday party. After all, it was a blast last year when you showed up in the "Mean Girls"–esque Santa skirt, spiked the egg nog, and told each and every co-worker how they brought the holiday spirit to life. Although people did seem to give you a wide berth after that ... the fact is, even people who live for holiday parties could stand some advice when the office is involved.

Dress to Impress

It's definitely a good idea to add a bit of festive flair to your outfit, but read the room and don't let your fashion choices become a focal point of the whole party. Goofy sweater? Great! Snowflake-shaped earrings? Awesome! Santa hat? It could work in some work environments, but in others, you might be getting a bit too flashy. And when it comes to items of clothing that explicitly reference faith or religion, you're better off leaving them at home. Finally, if your office institutes a dress code for the holiday party, there's a reason for it. Don't be the coworker who stands out for all the wrong reasons.

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry — In Moderation

We said it before but it bears repeating: the office holiday party is a work event first and a party second. Know your limits. Don't pregame, and don't overindulge even if you're tempted by an open bar. If you are drinking at the party, try trading off between cocktails and water so you don't get in over your head. Your plus-one can be a big help here as well, assuming you trust them to get you home safe when the beer starts talking more than your brain does.

Don't Gossip

This is just a good rule of thumb to live by at the office, but it can be harder to remember when the mood is festive and the drinks are flowing. Gossip is bad for team morale, and if you start telling tales out of school, people will remember for a long time to come. Avoid sordid stories about your coworkers just as much as you'd want to avoid becoming the subject of one. And if somebody you're talking to starts veering into sensitive territory about another coworker, think of something nice to say and change the subject.

To the introverts, remember that it's okay to step outside for a moment if you need to compose yourself or get some fresh air. And to the extroverts, remember to save your show-stopping antics for your own holiday party. The office party might be the most uncomfortable kind of party there is, but if you follow these tips, you can get through it and have some fun too — or better yet, make a good impression before your yearly performance review.

And if you're the host, pick up some tips from "How to Throw Parties Like a Professional: Tips to Help You Succeed with Putting on a Party Event" by Richard Lowe Jr. The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible, and any purchases you make through this link will add a little kick to the Curiosity party's punch bowl.

Holiday Party Outtakes

Written by Reuben Westmaas December 5, 2017

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