If you haven’t had your company holiday party yet, I am sure it’s this week or next. When I think back to some of the work holiday parties I have attended, I think of most of them fondly (well except maybe that one party that cemented me as a “light-weight” all too early in my career).
While some people dread these forced-fun events even more than a trip to the dentist, I always find them to be an opportunity to end the year on a strong note and connect with people you otherwise couldn’t build a close relationship with.
Back in my Wall Street days, I was always so amazed by the difference in my interaction with coworkers after the holiday parties. I will never forget attending a Lehman Brother’s party where I chatted with an intimidating trader (he was someone I was absolutely terrified of). At our holiday party, we chatted about family and his passion for wine. Since that day he wasn’t as scary to me, aways stopped me in the middle of the trading floor to tell me about his latest wine discovery and was always willing to go out of his way to help me.
Spending quality time with your colleagues outside of the 9-5 is a great way to nurture the relationship, as well as a chance to show you’ve got the social chops to go alongside your technical skills. So whether you are attending a conference room shindig à la The Office or a client’s fancy blowout, follow these tips to get the most out of your professional holiday engagements. You’ll also find a few helpful conversation-starters at the very end, so keep reading!
Do plan ahead. Just as you would prep for any meeting, be aware of who the key stakeholders are that may affect your year ahead, and plan how you want to connect with them.
Do ask for introductions. If you work for a large company, chances are you don’t know every partner or managing director. If there’s someone in particular you’d like to get to know, ask one of your colleagues who might be closer to this person to make the connection.
Do get out of your comfort zone. Maybe there’s a marketer you have tension with, or a trader that intimidates you—now is the time to try and engage them on neutral ground. Connecting on something as simple as travel, food or a sports team can go a long way in strengthening the relationship.
Do talk about interesting/high-value work projects. You don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty here, but sharing the big picture of an important project you’re working on or strategist changes you are implementing is a great way to bridge a gap between you and a colleague from another department. People love learning new things they aren’t typically privy to, so why not let John from HR know about that big international account your team just landed. This also serves as some light and authentic self-promotion, which never hurts!
Do be authentic. Holiday parties can be a great opportunity to get candid on your aspirations for the coming year. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable when chatting with a higher up—you could say something like “this year I’m hoping to get on that new real estate project, and I’d like to contribute more to the decision-making process”. Mentioning specific goals lets them know you’ve thought about the future and you’re enthusiastic to contribute.
And Now for the Don’ts
Don’t talk about boring work! Those reports you completed for the sales team may seem like a safe conversation topic, but who really wants to talk about KPIs at their holiday party? Try to keep boring work talk to a minimum so you can actually learn more about the multi-dimensional humans that are your colleagues. (See Do’s for some interesting work topics you could mention.)
Don’t talk about polarizing topics. You might be tempted to talk about the latest in the impeachment trials, but trust me when I say you’ll be better off debating The Irishman vs. Goodfellas this year.
Don’t drink too much. This seems like a no-brainer, but White Claw always seems to taste better during an awkward silence, so pace yourself.
To help you get started with your party prep, here are a few fool-proof conversation starters:
What are your plans for the holidays?
Who do you spend your holidays with?
Do you have any special traditions?
Do you have kids? How old are they? What school(s) do they attend?
Have you seen that ..play/movie/show/game…?
Where do you like to travel?
Have you read any good books or seen any good movies recently?
Following this guide should help you lay the groundwork needed to have a successful holiday party experience. And don’t forget to enjoy yourself—you’ve worked hard this year and should celebrate everything you’ve achieved!