How to Enjoy Your Office Holiday Party

Is your office holiday party looming and you’re not sure what to do? Lisa B. Marshall, aka The Public Speaker, can steer you through the sometimes-awkward but potentially-rewarding situations.

Lisa B. Marshall ,
December 4, 2015
Episode #320

An editor from a British magazine (Tesco) interviewed me not long ago about etiquette for holiday office parties. Since office parties can often be a source of anxiety, I wanted to share my advice with you as well.

Advice for holiday office parties is generally the same as all office parties. While you need to communicate carefully and considerately in any social situation, this can be even more true, and even more difficult, at an office party. Often you read: be informal, but not too informal. Be fun, but not inappropriate. Be yourself, but don’t be! The mixed signals sent by all the “how-to” columns can be so confusing.

But if just think of it as showing respect for others and for yourself, everything falls into place. This is really the secret of all good communication and social interaction.

Office Party Conversation Skills

Office party conversations can delve into the personal, and, in fact, they should. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn more about your colleagues and strengthen your relationships by discovering what you have in common. But consider the level of intimacy you share with that person from the start. Levels of intimacy are defined differently, depending upon the type of relationship. But for coworkers, it starts with your shared environment and roles. When starting a conversation, head towards what you have in common first. Think of it as if you are slowly peeling away the layers of an “interpersonal” onion: from environment to roles to interests to goals, attitudes, values, and, finally, to emotions. Ask a question at the appropriate level, and be sure it’s something that can be responded to in the form of a story. Stories are the glue that binds us. Then to draw that person out, respond with your own story that reflects back your understanding of what they have just shared with you. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; something short works. But you have just shared something you hadn't before and have deepened your interpersonal relationship.

Keep in mind, you should always be interacting at the level that is appropriate to the relationship. First time meeting? Focus on the immediate environment or your roles. Know the person better? Move to interests and goals. Know the person even better? Discuss attitudes, beliefs, and possibly even emotions. The important part is to allow your conversation partner to dictate the level and pace of movement through the interpersonal levels.

Office Party Listening Skills

If you’re worried about being able to maintain a conversation, remember that being a great listener is even more important than being a great talker. Listening is one of the most important skills for conversation making. Have you ever been with someone who really listened? Do you remember how he or she made you feel? When someone listens actively and reflectively, it makes you feel understood and important. It builds trust and creates stronger relationships.

If you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next, you won’t be listening carefully enough to the other person and you won’t pick up on what’s important to them or on any subtle signals your conversation partner is sending. Listening carefully shows you’re interested and is the best way to carry a conversation and a relationship forward.  By the way, in my book, Smart Talk, I explain what you should be listening for and how to use that information to expand a conversation and build a deeper, stronger relationship.

Our nervousness about conversation, however, generally stems from self-judgment or self-consciousness. So if you focus on listening to others and making them feel valued, you won’t have the opportunity to be nervous. Your focus will be on someone else, and you will forget yourself in the process. This is why listening deepens relationships. You become more comfortable as you make others feel more comfortable.


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