How to Handle an Awkward Office Party

Face it, at some point in your career, you’ll be invited to an office party. Will it be awkward? Definitely.  Do you still have to go? Absolutely. But fear not, Modern Manners Guy has 3 tips for how to properly handle an awkward office party.

Richie Frieman
Episode #256

Fact: Not everyone likes parties or being the center of attention.  So if you are this type of person, and you find yourself in the midst of a surprise staring you, it can be very awkward.  When a party is thrown in your honor and you feel like crawling inside your own body to hide, please don't. Instead, just smile, wave, and offer tons of thank yous through gritted teeth. If you are mortified at seeing candles on a cake with your name on it, with all your colleagues in one room staring at you, you have to realize that a large group of people all got together to do something nice for you. And this is something you can’t rudely disregard, no matter how upset you are by this turn of events.

Even though I’m an extrovert, I do sympathize with introverts. So please don’t think I’m being unmannerly when I say, “Deal with it!” Regardless of how shy you are, you have to generously embrace a party meant for you since a lot of work went into it. Anything short of showing complete gratitude for your colleagues' thoughtfulness will make you look like a complete jerk. If you find yourself in this state of awkwardness, simply stick to a few kind words. Something like “Gosh, you know I’m not big on all this attention but I really, really appreciate this. So please, eat up!” This way, you show your gratitude and then deflect the attention away from yourself and onto the party and your caring colleagues.  You said your thanks and essentially kicked off the party like a generous host. Then you can grab a seat and cuddle with your cake and the people close to you. If you didn’t get to talk to everyone, it’s okay since you were “So overwhelmed by all the attention, you lost track of time.” That's another good line. Feel free to use it anytime. You’re welcome.

Tip #3: The Odd Man Out

You will often find that awkwardness occurs when you are the odd man or woman out. In one of my previous jobs, I was one of 7 men in a staff of 45. And in that 45 we were split into 4 smaller divisions, which made the male to female ratio even smaller. In my team I was the only guy among 12 women. To top off this gender inequality, I was the youngest by far, everyone looked at me as their little brother or nephew. Nevertheless, I embraced it since I really had no choice. But whenever there was a baby or wedding shower and I was one of only a few guys in the room, things got very awkward.  

During a baby shower my first year on the job, my colleagues thought it was funny to turn to me after every gift was opened and say, “Richie, bet you never seen that before, hon!” For the most part, yes, I’ve seen a diaper bin before … but I will admit that seeing a breast pump for the first time was a bit of a shock. Again, I had no choice but to roll with the punches.

When you find yourself the odd man out (which in my case, was literally the case), the easiest way to handle is with a sense of humor. For example, during that baby shower, I felt very nervous and uncomfortable since I was surrounded by 30 women who all had kids or had been to many of these showers before. Plus, there really wasn’t much I could offer as fas as insight. So when the jokes at my expense started rolling, I just smiled, laughed, and took the punches as they came.

“Hey Richie, have you ever changed a diaper?” “This is the electric breast pump Richie, not the manual. Do you know how it works?" “I can’t wait until it’s Richie’s turn for a shower. Speaking of which, when will that be?” I could have buried my head in my hands, rolled my eyes, or just sat there like a deer in headlights, but that would have made people feel sorry for me and taken attention away from the person whom the party was celebrating. And that's not fair. So after every joke, I laughed and got in on the gag, since well, for the most part, they were right. By simply going with the flow I showed that I could easily take a joke, and of course hang with the big girls.

Do you have a great story about how you handled an awkward office party?  Post all the details in the Comments section below. As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

And if you have any recent graduates in your circle, or perhaps someone who is looking to start a new career, check out my new book, Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career. It's available now!


About the Author

Richie Frieman
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