Office party season is here, and that means direct facetime with your manager that isn’t taking place in a meeting room or at your desk. Whether you’re an attendee trying to climb the org chart or the planner behind the whole event wanting to make sure the CEO takes note of your effort, there are simple, subtle ways to use the annual holiday party to make a good impression on your boss (which certainly doesn’t hurt with year-end reviews in sight). “A lot of times, people tend to want to skip the holiday party,” says Elaine Swann, an etiquette and lifestyle expert. “The first thing you can do is show up. The feedback I get the most from bosses is that they recognize, especially in smaller companies, who is there and who isn’t.”
RSVPing and showing face is just a starting point, though. Here are 10 other party tips and tricks to remember when you’re schmoozing with your manager this holiday party season.
Make the first move
It turns out this piece of advice isn't only useful for getting a crush to notice you. Even if you're painfully shy or a "practiced extrovert," hoping your manager will be the one to approach you first at a party can backfire. Since they undoubtedly know more people at the company, they could get tied up in conversation until the wee hours. If you approach your boss while they’re talking to someone, wait for a quick break then insert yourself in the conversation with a positive comment. It can be about the party atmosphere or a subject they brought up during a recent meeting. If you're a go-getter, let your boss know you'd love to talk to them about an idea you have the next time they're free at the office. The small effort will leave a big impression.
You worked up the courage to talk to your boss. Now, how do you keep the conversation from going stale, or even worse, stalling out before it even begins? Swann says it’s critical to have a plan. Bring up key facts that go beyond surface-level; for example, if you know they’re a foodie, ask them about their new favorite restaurant in the city. Asking pointed questions based on what you already know about them will show that you pay attention -- and that you care about them as a person. If your boss has a more serious attitude and seems hard to crack, read an article about a hot business topic or something trending in your industry before the party and ask for their opinion. Doing your homework will show that you're thinking about the big picture. If you're new to the company and this is your first holiday party, ask your team members what they know about your boss to give you some conversation starters. Just whatever you do, don't view their LinkedIn profile three hours before the party.
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Leave office politics at the office
Company holiday parties are for celebrating -- not venting. No matter how crazy the quarter has been or how infuriating your desk mate's lunch habits are, Swann says this is not the time to bring these issues to your manager. (Or anyone else, for that matter.) "Do not use this time to complain, to ask for a raise, or ask for a promotion," she advises. "Engage them with fresh, new information that has to do with either the company itself or the industry you are in... Even if [a promotion] is your ultimate goal, lead with something beneficial to the company, not yourself." Beyond avoiding this type of discussion with your boss, it's best to avoid gossip circles or negative conversations among co-workers, too. You never know who might be listening.
Know your limits (and stick to them)
The saving grace of most holiday parties is the open bar, but before you go double-fisting vodka martinis, know that no matter how rambunctious the party seems, it's always better to underdo it. (Especially because calling out of work the next morning with a hangover is a huge no-no!) So, Swann suggests following a two drink maximum, even if the drinks are free. "It is so important to remember that this is a business event," she says. "The more you drink, the less control you have of yourself." In simpler terms, the more you drink, the more likely you are to overshare about your lousy Tinder dates -- or worse. If self-control is hard for you, enlist a co-worker to be each other's watch dogs. It will help to have a buddy on your level if the sales team starts doing shots.
Walk the line between genuine enthusiasm and overly flattering
Dropping how excited you are to be a part of the company or relaying how good the appetizers taste is fine. Communicating how this is your "dream job" 10 times could come off as brownnosing. Adhere to giving your boss a compliment twice: when you first start talking to them and when you say goodbye at the end of the night. And make sure they are genuine comments that are workplace appropriate and not surface-level, too. Like, don't compliment a manager's outfit choice unless you're at a theme party where costumes are involved. Instead, look to commend them on attributes or skills, like how well they rallied the whole team to celebrate or hey, even how good they are at bowling or laser tag.
Don't just focus on your boss
Network and mingle with other higher-ups at the event, not just your direct manager. If you impress an exec who interacts with your boss, there’s a good chance they'll mention this positive interaction to them (even if it was just that you had a great attitude or shared a funny story -- it matters!) This means not neglecting plus-ones, either. Ask their date questions and get to know them, too (their opinion of you will mean a lot). Speaking of plus-ones, Swann says another quick way to get the attention of your boss is to accept the invitation in its entirety. "If [your boss] says to bring a plus one, bring a plus one. If it's encouraged, this is a great way to impress them. They will see you differently. It will give you more to talk about while showing another layer of you. If you can't bring a spouse, bring a best friend."
Talk less and listen more
Some cope with social anxiety by trying to fill the silence with chatter, but doing so will likely put you on your boss's “avoid” list, rather than in their good graces. Instead, be curious: actively listen to the stories your boss and co-workers tell, then ask follow-up questions to keep them talking. A mix of open-ended and yes/no questions will move the conversation along -- when in doubt, fall back on who, what, when, where, why, or how. This will prove that you're truly engaging with the conversation, rather than just waiting for your turn to speak, which will make a lasting impression on your teammates and manager. Also, pay attention to non-verbal cues that it's time to enter or leave the conversation, Swann says. If someone starts glancing around the room or takes a step away from you, take it as a signal to move on.
Gut-check your outfit
Sometimes, office party attire can be hard to suss out from the invite alone. And while clues can be drawn from the theme and venue, the best way to make sure your outfit is appropriate is to vet it with someone else on your team. (Ideally, this should be a responsible coworker who has been at the company for a few years, and therefore knows the culture.) If you're still unsure after discussing with this person, Swann suggests doing some reconnaissance on social media for photos from last year's event. Also, if there is a theme, you should play along -- even if you're dragging out your mom's elf sweater for the fifth ugly sweater party of the season. "It's showing you are a team player [and] it can set you apart," Swann says.
Avoid looking at your phone all night
Your boss will notice more than you think during a work function, so don't be that person scanning Tweets in a dark corner. Regularly being seen on your phone can communicate that you're not interested in meeting others at your company. Or, even worse, that you have somewhere else you'd rather be (ahem, other holiday parties that you're liking on Instagram). If you do need to answer a call or a message, politely excuse yourself and go into a hallway or the bathroom to respond. And while of course you should snap pics of all the sweet decorations or hilarious competitions taking place, don’t post them in real time on social media; wait until you get home. You'll thank yourself later when you have the time to think of the perfect caption.
Know when it's time to bounce -- but don't drag out goodbyes
While pulling an Irish goodbye may feel most comfortable at a large party, many people still find them rude, so it's best not to risk offending your boss. Instead, wait until the party starts to thin out (leaving too early will make it seem as though you're double-booked), then say goodbye quickly to critical people: your direct teammates and manager. Do so efficiently, so as not to interrupt other conversations, and be sure to say a quick thank you to the party planning committee on your way out, if you catch one of the hosts. Then, relax: You've now got a whole year before you need to attend another one of these.