Holiday office parties are supposed to be fun, but the reality is that they are stressful or even disastrous for your career if you say or do the wrong things. Don Gabor, author of How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends, shares some of the most common mistakes and tips on how not to put your foot in your mouth. Special to the Times
Making inappropriate comments — even in jest
Using sexual innuendos or telling off-color jokes at the holiday office party is a sure-fire way to attract attention, but not the kind that you want. This faux pas makes it plain that you don't understand boundaries, and it can quickly send your career into a downward spiral. Never forget that the holiday office party is a business, not social, situation where most of the rules of business etiquette apply.
Not shaking hands
Whether you are a man or woman, not offering to shake hands will peg you as: a) unsure of modern business etiquette, b) old-fashioned, and c) sexist. At today's holiday office party and everywhere else, for that matter — excluding religious, cultural or physical reasons — both men and women should take the initiative to shake hands.
Only chatting with your officemates
Shooting the breeze for a few minutes at holiday office parties with your colleagues is all part of the fun, but if you stay ensconced in your closed circle of friends too long, new co-workers, prospects or others will quickly cast you and your colleagues as cliquish, disinterested and not open to outsiders. Also, don't stay in one place too long. Doing so will make you appear shy, self-conscious and lacking confidence. Better to briefly say hello to your buddies, grab a few bites to eat and then introduce yourself to others you want to get to know better.
Asking too many closed-ended questions in a row
You're at a holiday office party — not a job interview or interrogation. Asking three or more closed-ended questions in a row may make others feel uncomfortable and definitely not win you any communication awards. Instead, show interest by asking open-ended questions that encourage others to elaborate and reveal free information. Then based on what you hear that interests you, respond with followup questions and information of your own.
Talking too much or too little about yourself
Sure people love to talk about themselves, but if you are the one doing all the talking at the holiday office party, chances are you're boring the other guests. On the other hand, if you are too tight-lipped, then your conversation will quickly die on the vine for lack of interest and enthusiasm. The remedy here is to exchange information about various light subjects at about the same rate so that you both know what each other enjoys and likes to talk about.
Complaining or gossiping about colleagues or clients
It may be tempting or even well-deserved, but never get involved in a disparaging conversation about a colleague, client or anyone else while attending a holiday office party. You can get burned simply by being near those who do. All it takes is an over-competitive, jealous or a toady co-worker attributing crass comments made in the group about your boss, colleague or client to you and your name along with the others will be mud for a long time. The best thing to do is get out of the conversation quickly. However, if you are trapped, then take the initiative and bring up something that moves the conversation to a more positive topic.