This article appears in Nov.-December 2019 Family magazine.
The main difference between a party with friends and family and a work party is business. While you are allowed to relax and let down your guard at one party, at the other it’s wise to act in a professional manner.
“It might be a social occasion, but you should be in professional mode. Be attendant to your role whether that’s as an employee or a supportive spouse or partner,” said national etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, founder of the Protocol School of Texas.
To avoid embarrassing mistakes, start with doing a little prep work.
“First, find out where you’re going and be sure to arrive on time,” Gottsman said.
If there will be people in attendance whom you haven’t met, find out their names and a little bit about them. Gottsman is not suggesting internet stalking: Instead, take a quick look at a colleague’s LinkedIn profile or a business article.
“People will feel flattered that you took the time and effort to research them in a positive way,” Gottsman said.
Before the party starts, be sure to find out what the correct attire is. “Business professional” means an outfit you would wear at work, just not the one you wear on casual Friday, Gottsman said. “Cocktail attire” means a dark suit or pretty dress.
Have a small snack before you go.
“You won’t know what food will be served or if it will agree with your diet. Having a snack will allow you to enjoy the occasion,” Gottsman said.
Keeping drinking light and don’t overindulge, Gottsman said.
“Drink responsibly, but don’t feel obligated to drink. There’s no shame either way,” she said.
Work parties are “mandatory fun,” Gottsman said: “You have a duty to mix and mingle. Don’t huddle with friends you already know. Introduce yourself to people.”
Good party guests come armed with talking points and stay away from touchy subjects like politics and religion. Instead, veer to fun topics like entertainment and sports.
“Even if you don’t really enjoy sports, you can at least know what teams are playing, who’s winning. Look for connections and make an effort,” Gottsman said.
The best conversationalists are the ones who let others shine, Gottsman said. Be a good listener. Avoid bragging about a partner’s accomplishments, complaining or showing off fancy family vacations or children’s achievements.
“Be yourself; don’t be a fraud,” Gottsman said.
If you find yourself trapped in a boring conversation, it’s acceptable to politely excuse yourself. Say, “Please excuse me” and try to use the person’s name, Gottsman said. Tell them it was nice chatting, but that you see some other people you would like to catch up with. Then close the conversation the same way it started, with a handshake or hug if necessary.
Work parties can be a challenge for all of us, Gottsman said. Introverts may be anxious to speak with others, but extroverts need to rein themselves in.
“All of us may be anxious, but we should try and be gracious,” Gottsman said.