Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Nov 4, 2009

The Office Cocktail Party

Instructor, Caroline Bender

Wednesday is New Professionals' Day at the Finishing School, though we recognize that even the old soldier can learn a few new tricks. As we near end-of-year office celebrations (on or off site) we offer a few tips for getting through the cocktail hour.

The New Professional navigating the political minefield of the workplace may find the snap decisions of the office social overwhelming -- so much potential to advance, stall, or cripple her success as a serious player. Gaining a reputation as someone who "doesn't go to these things" can put you out of contention for real opportunities in the big picture.

The Seasoned Professional is not immune to this problem; especially in a new workplace where she has not yet learned the politics of this particular tribe.

This lecture refers to the small on-site after work cocktail affair that usually lasts only a couple of hours. The Office Holiday Party, baby shower, annual sales meeting, trade convention, and talent show have additional concerns which should be covered separately.

How to drink

• There is no rule against it, but be mindful of your behavior. Act as if you have seen alcohol before, and are capable of buying it for yourself. It may be open bar, but it is not your sister's wedding.
• Use the cups the caterers brought. Bringing your own cup went out with gatoring at the Delta House.
• It is unnecessary to comment on the caliber of wine being served, as if you expected someone to have opened the wine cellar. If the stemware is plastic, it is red table wine. Drink it or don't. If the event is at the Boss's house, you love whatever it is and listening to her talk about it.
• The best reason not to drink is that it affects your judgment. If you tend to lose advance notice of what you might say, do, or touch... keep your wits about you.

How to eat

• If you are going to drink, please do eat.
• If you could afford to pick up your own dinner on the way home, yield the line to those who can't. The gang from the call center and the grad assistants' lounge count on buffets like this.
• Anyone working through the night should be able to get in front of you and fill a larger plate than yours.
• You can't handle a plate, a fork, and a glass. Pick finger food

How to mingle

• These events are bad enough without enforcing our own cliques on them. Try to break free from your own team, unless you have a new member. Hook them to you, and take them to people you know in other departments.
• Approach those you know when they are talking to people you don't know. Simply stand next to them and smile. It's as simple as this: "I don't think we've met. I'm ______." If you have met, they will remind you. Or not. And it won't really matter.
• "Where do you work," is an acceptable ice breaker, but only one generation removed from "What's your major?" Unless you want to give your own elevator speech, don't ask anyone else to give theirs. Go in a different direction.

How to fraternize

• I am fond of a scene in the film "Big," where Elizabeth Perkins' character corners the boss with a lot of talk about work. He says, "Have a drink, Susan. it's a party."
• As long as everyone is mingling and drinking out of plastic stemware, this is the prime time to move into conversation with highers-up. Things they like to talk about: their kids, their sports, fixing up the house, vacation plans, and the weather.
• Remember, too, that there are subordinates and other career climbers hoping to mingle with you, so don't shut them out. Be as gracious with them as you hope the executives will be with you. Things your staff like to talk about are their kids, their sports, fixing up the house, vacation plans, and the weather.

How to flirt

• Mingle + Fraternize x (eye contact + friendly arm touching). Take the rest of it off-line.

Should I make a speech?

• Are you good at it? Don't answer -- ask others.

May I crash parties I wasn't invited to?

You may not. Class dismissed.

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