85% of the reason for success in business is people skills, leaving only 15% riding on your business degree and years of experience. Using the office holiday party to showcase your people skills could be a better career move than that brilliant business plan you submitted last month.
Although disguised as a social event, the office party is as much part of your job responsibilities as attending any other meeting called by your boss. Make no mistake: this is business, not pleasure. In the absence of a well-established and unavoidable previous engagement, consider attendance as mandatory.
This is a business event; keep the business in your choice of what to wear. Dress at the upper end of what you consider business formal. Easier for men who can wear a blue suit and either a conservative or festive tie. Women, keep it smart—not sexy. No cleavage means no gossip behind your back or leering looks at work. Review with your spouse or guest what they will be wearing, also. It will reflect on YOU if your wife wears a revealing dress, or your husband’s idea of dressing up is wearing clean jeans. There is no holiday magic behind the following key social skills that successful people use year ‘round, not just at the office party:
Greet your host when you arrive (by the way, “host” is a gender-neutral term). It is not acceptable to simply head for the bar and buffet and hope to catch up with your host later in the evening. A well-organised party of over 50 guests should include a receiving line making it easy for the host to greet everyone on arrival.
Shake hands and remember that this is the only acceptable touching allowed at a business function. Avoid determined kissers by locking your elbow when shaking hands to enforce the distance. Handshakes are accompanied by direct eye contact (don’t be looking over their shoulder to see who else is there) and often include an introduction.
When introducing yourself, use your first and last name; never call yourself “Mr. Wales” or “Mrs. Dixon” unless you are introducing yourself to a child. In a business environment, junior (or less important) people are introduced to senior (or more important) people. Don’t delude yourself that there is no ranking simply because it is a party. Introduce people by name, not by their position or relationship to you although you may usually explain the relationship. For example: “Ms Boss, may I introduce Julius Brown, my husband.” (It is up to your boss whether she will ask your husband to call her by her first name.)
Hold your drink in your left hand to ensure that your right hand is free—and dry rather than cold and clammy—to shake hands. This also keeps your right hand free for sampling the finger food as it is passed. Avoid the temptation to juggle a plate of food and a drink while standing. If holding a plate, lose the glass. Serve yourself moderate portions at a buffet—better to return for seconds than to heap your plate high with an unattractive mixture of everything in sight. When alcohol is being served, stay well under your limit. Gentlemen: don’t finish your second drink; ladies: don’t finish your first. Switch to mixers or juice.
Use this opportunity to introduce yourself to senior managers and meet people from other departments. Meet your colleagues’ spouses and partners (gay couples are treated exactly the same), and acknowledge that they have lives and interests of their own—they are not merely appendages to their partners. Any question that might appear on a government form or mortgage application is to be avoided. Also to be avoided: “shop-talk” and office gossip. Holiday plans, children, common interests, current events are all simple openers that will not offend or embarrass. Best to skip politics and religion.
By the end time stated on the invitation, you should be finding your host to say thank you and taking your leave.
If you’ve followed these guidelines, a thank you note to the evening’s host will distinguish you in the workplace as a confident and knowledgeable employee with superlative social skills. And that’s where the 85% factor comes into play.
©2005 John G. Robertson Inc.