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Modern Etiquette: Essential tips for the office party

According to the 25th annual survey of corporate America’s holiday party plans, 96 percent of U.S. companies will host holiday parties this year, the highest percentage since 1997. Alcohol will be served at 72 percent of holiday parties and nearly a third of employees will behave badly.

If you don’t want your name to appear on the office naughty list, it’s important to put a plan in place beforehand to avoid being embarrassed. By taking a few precautions and exercising good judgment, you can confidently return to the office on Monday with your head held high and your reputation unscathed.

Here’s what I recommend:

– Eat before you go. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster.

– Drink in extreme moderation or not at all. Start with a club soda to get full and drink a glass of water between alcoholic beverages.

– Hold your drink in your left hand. This keeps your right hand free (and dry) for shaking hands.

– Dress appropriately. The operative word in office party is office. You are mingling with your colleagues and your boss so avoid looking like you’re going to a club. If you're not sure what to wear, ask beforehand.

– Avoid messy, greasy hors d'oeuvres. Choose foods you can eat with a fork or a toothpick so your hands and clothes stay clean.

– Make merry and mingle. Instead of spending the evening with your office buddies, get out of your “comfort zone” and mingle with people from other departments. You never know who you might be working with (or for) in the future.

– Make a positive first impression. Because you can't rely on others to approach you, it's your job to initiate contact with others. Look for groups of people that appear friendly and open, avoiding groups engaged in serious conversation. Move near them, make eye contact, smile, and ask, "May I join you?"

– Keep the conversation positive. When engaging in small talk, keep the focus on light and positive things such as holiday plans, movies, vacations, or even food. Do not talk about politics, money, medical issues, sex, or anything controversial, including office gossip.

– Make yourself visible. Because this may be the only time you see the president, CEO or other VIPs you need to make yourself visible. Introduce yourself but keep the conversation short. Focus on positive aspects of the company and avoid bragging about yourself.

– Be present. If the party includes a sit-down dinner, do not put your cell phone on the table. It will distract you as well as the guests at the table.

– Don’t be the last to leave. While you don’t want to run out on the fun, it’s important to leave when you sense things starting to wind down. Those late to leave are often remembered. And not in a good way.

– Be grateful. Party planning is often a thankless task. At the end of the evening, be sure to thank the individual or individuals who coordinated the event. They’ll appreciate the acknowledgment and will think of you favorably in the future.

You’ve worked too hard to build your professional image and reputation to blow it on one careless night of fun. By following these suggestions you can enjoy the celebration and keep your dignity and professionalism intact.

(Pamela Eyring is the owner and president of The Protocol School of Washington (PSOW), which provides professional business etiquette and international protocol training. Founded in 1988, PSOW is the only school of its kind in the U.S. to become accredited. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

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