Many people dread the inevitable holiday work party. After all, why would you want to spend three hours in a room full of people you barely know, most of whom (like you) would rather be doing something else?

Never fear. Here's a simple survival guide:

1. Drink club soda or orange juice.

Never drink ANY alcoholic beverage when you're in the same room with everybody you'll be working with. OK, maybe one drink. However, if everyone else is getting totally hammered, you want to be the one who's not acting like a jackass.

2. Dress conservatively.

I'll illustrate this point with a true story. My first wife wore a strapless dress to her first holiday party at the huge CPA firm KPMG. The band started up, she started dancing, and...Anyway, she's now a respected professor at a major university, but I'm sure to some senior partners she's still the new hire who flashed the entire division.

3. No personal questions/remarks.

Never make comments or ask questions about clothing, body parts, salaries, family members, sex life, politics, drug usage, or religion.

4. Memorize some "conversation starters."

Andrew Sobel, co-author of the hugely popular book Power Questions, suggests that, rather than gossip about work, ask thought-provoking (but neutral) questions like:

  • What was your best day and worst day at work during this past year?
  • What was the most fulfilling experience you had this year?
  • What do you think is the best part of working here?
  • What's the most challenging part of your job?
  • How did you get your start? (Good question to ask a boss.)
  • If you suddenly had a couple of extra hours per week outside of work, how would you spend them?
  • What's your favorite [movie, restaurant, book, way to relax]?
  • Is there something you've always wanted to do, but have never been able to get around to doing?
  • What's been the most gratifying experience you've had this year?
  • How did your family spend the holidays when you were a kid?
  • If you hadn't gone into [whatever the person does], what do you think you might have done instead?
  • Where did you grow up? What was that like?

5. Don't hit on anybody.

There are only three ways this scenario ends: 1. You'll get shot down, in which case everyone sees that you've been rejected; 2. You'll offend the object of your attention, which will definitely come back to haunt you; or 3. You'll end up in the sack with a co-worker, and you'll both suffer from gossip about it until the day you leave the company. Just don't go there.

6. Grin and bear it.

Heck, it's only one night a year.

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