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Holiday Party Etiquette 101

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Deck the halls with boughs of holly -- or is it your computer monitor with strands of tinsel? While the holiday season spells last-minute trips to the local mall, dinner with family and friends, and gifts galore, it also likely means an invitation to the office party.

Your company's holiday event is the perfect opportunity to relax with your coworkers, mingle with those you rarely see and gain some valuable face time with members of the senior management team. As a result, it's important to be on your best behavior. Going overboard by acting up -- or dressing down -- could color people's impression of you and undermine a whole year's worth of good cheer.

Here are some tips to ensure visions of your office party exploits don't dance through your coworkers' heads.

Go easy on the eggnog. Overindulging in alcohol can be traced to a majority of office party mishaps. So plan to drink moderately, if at all. It's also wise to eat a small meal before attending. You won't be hungry, enabling you to focus on the conversation rather than the buffet table.

Check your guest list twice. If it's appropriate to invite your spouse or a guest to your firm's holiday party, make sure he or she has been properly prepped beforehand. If you've shared work-related frustrations or bits of company gossip with your partner, he or she should know what's OK to repeat -- and what should remain off the record. Above all, remember the person you bring reflects on you, and his or her actions can affect your reputation.

Stay to spread some cheer. Though attendance may be optional, plan to attend your company's holiday party if you are able. People pay attention to who comes and who doesn't. Stay for at least an hour or two, but don't be the last to leave. If the crowd starts thinning, and the organizers begin cleaning up, make your exit.

Deck the halls, but avoid getting decked out.
If the invitation specifies business attire, avoid showing up in cocktail clothes, especially if you have to put in a day's work before the festivities begin. If the party calls for your holiday best, exercise discretion and leave the flashy or revealing outfits at home. If you'd like to add festive flair, complement your look with a seasonal tie, scarf, jewelry or other accessory.

Mingle all the way. The office party is your opportunity to meet colleagues from other departments or chat with a senior manager for a few minutes. To make a positive impression, come with conversation starters in mind, such as asking people about their holiday plans or if they've made any New Year's resolutions. If you're on the shy side, look for people who are easy to approach -- the coworker wearing a Santa hat, for example, or the person standing alone. Try to speak to at least two new people before the night is over.

Don't be a Grinch. Make sure your posture and demeanor indicate your willingness to engage in conversation with others. Frowning or remaining in the corner all night will discourage people from talking to you. So, smile, walk around the room and look people in the eye as you approach them. Also, keep one hand free throughout the evening so you can shake hands with those you meet. (Hint: Keep your champagne glass in your left hand, so your right is not cold and wet when you introduce yourself.)

Be good for goodness sake. When interacting with company decision makers, the little things take on greater importance. Managers trying to determine who will represent the firm well before clients and potential customers may very well take your manners into consideration. That's why it's key to brush up on your table etiquette. Remember, your bread plate is to your left, and drinks are on the right.

In a survey by Robert Half International, 77 percent of executives and 71 percent of employees said they enjoy celebrating the winter holidays with coworkers. Chances are you'll enjoy the company party, too, if you leave knowing you made a positive impression on everyone there.
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