Everyone Knows Fortunes Are Won and Lost at the Company Holiday Party

Want a promotion in 2017? The company holiday party is your time to shine.

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with the annual office gathering. On the one hand: free hors d’oeuvres and booze. On the other hand: free embarrassment, when the free booze leads you to take a header on the dance floor and split your pants in front of the boss.

Mandatory fun is always less, well, fun than the spontaneous kind. But if you play your cards right, your holiday party experience can be embarrassment-free and boost your career at the same time. You might even enjoy yourself.

Here’s how to do it.

1. Don’t drink your face off.

There’s a reason every holiday party guide includes an admonition not to drink too much. What seems like a good idea when you’re a few free drinks into the evening might turn out to be a career-ruiner. This is especially true if you’re imbibing to take the edge off some social anxiety.

Boozing it up might make it easier to endure a conversation with your boorish coworker, but it also might encourage you to start emulating his behavior. When it comes to managing social situations in a professional context, you need to have your wits about you.

2. Make new friends.

People who have friends at work tend to be more productive and produce better work than those who keep their personal life rigidly separate – but the company holiday party isn’t necessarily the time to reinforce those bonds. After all, you can plan a team happy hour anytime, or just grab a bite to eat during the week; the holiday party is a rare chance to hang out with people you don’t know that well or rarely interact with.

Cross-team bonding is important, because no one works in a vacuum. Even if you rarely talk to sales and see IT people only when your computer freezes, your job depends on theirs and vice versa. You’re all engaged in the same goal of making your company a success.

Chatting with people you don’t know gives you a unique opportunity to see some of their perspective. You might discover a whole other point of view on the company’s products and services, or learn something about the organization’s goals that you never knew before. (You might also learn that your company is about to have layoffs, which is equally valuable – if less delightful to hear at the holidays.)

Making new friends in other departments can benefit your career in the long run, as well. You never know when there might be an opportunity in another department or if one of your coworkers will end up managing at a competitor someday. Make connections with other teams, and they might think of you when the time comes to hire.

3. Have a plan.

If you want to use the company holiday party to get ahead, you need to set some goals ahead of time. Start by determining what you want to accomplish. Are you hoping to make a good impression on the new CEO, or connect with people who’ll be working on your biggest project next year, or just talk to three people you’ve only met in passing?

Make a list. Obviously, you want to approach the actual event with a bit more spontaneity – in other words, don’t blurt out, “THIS WAS NICE, BUT I NEED TO MAKE TWO OTHER NEW FRIENDS, SO BYE!” – but knowing roughly what you’re hoping to accomplish will help you get off on the right foot.

It’s also a good idea to think about what you don’t want to happen at the party. For example, if you know your coworker is about to get the boot, and you have the worst poker face in the game, now might be the time to discreetly avoid them. The same goes for colleagues who tend to monopolize the conversation and might not let you mingle.

Finally, decide roughly when you’d like to call it a night – and keep it on the early side. Your mother was right: Nothing good happens after midnight. Go home earlyish, and you can enjoy hearing about what your coworkers got up to… without having to endure the hangover and potential fallout that accompanies their misadventures.

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