Working the office holiday party

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Published: November 7,2005

Did you know that when you walk into a party, you should step to the right side of the doorway and stand there for 30 to 60 seconds?

“It may be the longest 30 to 60 seconds of your life, but it’s important to use the party entrance to your advantage,” said Jay Pearson, CEO and director of the Mississippi School of Protocol and Etiquette, based in Byram. “Anytime anyone comes into a room, our eyes immediately go to the door to see who’s coming in. The half-minute or minute you stand there gives you an opportunity to see who’s in the room — the key players — and map out a strategy to meet and greet particular individuals. It also gives everyone in the room time to take notice of you.”

Pearson, who has traveled the world consulting with corporations, government entities and royal families, said 92% of people entering a social setting are uncomfortable and tend to immediately head to one of the three Bs: the bar, the buffet or the back of the room.

Building relationships

“Go in with a plan, use the opportunity to build relationships and forge friendships and meet new people, and let them meet you,” he said. “Holiday parties are great times to build new relationships because we’re usually less defensive, more relaxed, and we can let people see a different side of us outside the professional arena.”

The order of hellos? First, the host. Then proceed down the corporate ladder. Always make it a point to meet and greet as many people as possible at an office function, said Pearson.

Susan Puckett, co-owner of Etiquette & Protocol Associates in Clinton, said it’s a mistake to skip the office holiday party. “As soon as the invitation arrives, send your reply,” she said. “It’s a major breach of etiquette not to reply at all. Decide whether or not you will attend, let your host know, and stick to your plans. Don’t even consider not going unless you have a justifiable conflict. The holiday office party is part of your job. If this is not your idea of a good time, then just remember it is work-related, put on your best attitude and go.”

Because it is a business function, dress professionally, said Puckett.

“For women, this is not the time to wear a sexy outfit that will diminish your credibility,” she said. “It is appropriate to wear a business suit and dress it up with festive accessories. For men, wearing that snowman tie sends the wrong message. Conservative business attire is always appropriate.”

Understand the art of small talk.

“Many adults find themselves uncomfortable making small talk in social situations,” said Pearson. “Small talk doesn’t have to be anything profound. In fact, a good small talker is someone who doesn’t do much talking at all, but asks a lot of powerful open-ended questions. It’s always good to be abreast of current news. In protocol school, we were taught to read three newspapers a day and to see at least one new-release movie every month so you have plenty to talk about.”

Do your homework.

“Say I’m going to an office party of a client that has a horse farm, I’m going to learn about horses so I can partake in small talk,” said Pearson. “It’s very good to stay abreast of sporting events, like knowing the White Sox won the World Series. Always avoid religion, politics and health habits.”

The office holiday party can also cripple your career, cautioned Puckett.

“Those who observe your behavior at the office holiday party will remember it when they consider you for other business events,” she said. “There’s no doubt that your behavior will be observed by someone whose opinion can impact your job. Use the party as an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to handle business situations of a social nature, something that is required of senior executives.”

The office party is also an opportunity to let coworkers know how much their support and assistance is appreciated throughout the year. “If you make any verbal commitments to any of the people at the party, make sure you follow up on them,” urged Puckett.

A good guest focuses on other guests, but has a brief prepared elevator résumé speech that leaves others wanting to know more. “After all, it is a corporate party with potential clients,” said Pearson.

Remember that you have been invited to a holiday office party not because you’re hungry or thirsty, but for your contribution, said Pearson.

“Pick up on other people’s body language and know when things need to end,” he said. “We tend to let our hair down a little too much, but be very mindful of your alcohol consumption. You never want to be the butt of any jokes on Monday morning.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

Office Party Essentials

• Plan to arrive soon after the event is
scheduled to start, when everyone will still
be fresh.

• Before you arrive, turn off or silence your cell
phone.

• Talk business, but don’t “talk shop.” After an
appropriate interval, excuse yourself and
move on.

• Eat before the party. Focus on the people, not
the food. Never eat directly from the hors
d’oeuvres tray or the buffet table. Put your
selection on a plate or napkin. Select foods
you can eat neatly, with one hand, while
standing up. Stay away from salty or greasy
items that make you want to drink more.

• Don’t double-dip. Not only is it rude, it is a
health hazard.

• Limit alcoholic consumption to one or two
drinks.

• Introduce your partner and don’t ignore him
during the evening. Include spouses in every
discussion.

• Avoid controversial issues and office gossip.

• Don’t tell inappropriate jokes.

• Don’t whine about problems at the office.

• When you have spoken to all or most of the
bosses, coworkers, and new individuals, you
may leave the party.

SOURCE: Etiquette & Protocol Associates

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