The office holiday party is much more than a chance to enjoy an evening of food and drinks at the company’s expense. When done right, it can be a chance to strengthen relationships with colleagues and supervisors, extend your circle of contacts within the company and dazzle others with your poise and polish in a social setting. But, you must follow certain etiquette rules at the office holiday party to make sure you get noticed for the right reasons.

Show up. Even if you are not thrilled about attending the party, consider it an obligatory work function. Skipping the office holiday party sends a message that you are not interested in being an integral part of the team. In this particular case, you must be present to win.

Dress for the occasion. Understand what the dress code will be and put forth the effort required to ensure that you wear appropriate attire. You don’t want to be the one who shows up in a sweater and slacks while your colleagues are in formal wear, or vice versa.

Pitch in. If the celebration is in someone’s home, ask the host if there is anything you can do to help. If the party is offsite at another venue, let your colleagues who are organizing the event know that you are available and ready to help if they need assistance.

Eat before you arrive. As enticing as a free buffet can be, do not plan to take full advantage of it. Eat something before you go. You are there to visit with colleagues and socialize, not to gorge yourself on the shrimp hors d’oeuvres and prime rib.

Make the rounds. Avoid spending the evening entirely with your regular clique of officemates. Set a goal of talking with at least two or three people who you do not normally interact with on the job to broaden your network and help others feel comfortable at the party.

Skip talking shop. Any social event, especially the office holiday party, is not the time to discuss the status of the current project or scrutinize the ROI on the latest marketing campaign. Focus on getting to know your colleagues on a different level.

Be ready to chat. Go in with a few general topics that you can use to talk to just about anyone. If you find yourself tongue-tied or not sure what to say to someone, asking them questions about themselves is always a good option. One great conversation starter is simply asking someone about their holiday plans. That can lead into a conversation about traditions, travel, kids, holiday shopping, trendy gifts, movies that will be in theaters over the holiday season and more.

Think of the open bar as a test of character. There will be those who can’t resist the siren song of free booze and will most likely end up as the subject of water cooler chatter on Monday morning. Commit to making a conscious decision not to over serve yourself. While you technically are at a social function, you are definitely not kicking back with your buddies. Stay on your guard. Your drinking behavior will be noticed and can have real consequences on your career. Consider a two-drink limit and switch to club soda with lime so you can keep a drink in your hand while keeping your wits about you.

Be aware of your body language. Some of us look forward to the office party and some of us would rather be home in our pajamas sipping a glass of wine. If you fall into the latter group, be especially aware of what your facial expression and body language are saying. Smile, make eye contact and show an interest in others. Look as if you want to be there. Keep your phone tucked out of sight in your purse or pocket and avoid looking repeatedly at your watch. Be fully present.

Express your appreciation. At the end of the evening, thank your boss and/or the owner of the company for the inclusion. Expressing gratitude is a great way to make one last positive impression.

Enjoy the office holiday party. It may be another year before you get to socialize with some of these people from the office again. But, keep in mind that it is much more important to focus on keeping your reputation intact than it is to keep up with the plates of food being served.

Published on: Dec 1, 2015