5 ways avoid awkward or embarrassing moments at the holiday office party

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Posted: Saturday, December 14, 2013 12:00 am

As the holidays approach, unpleasant memories of last year's office holiday party may still linger. Remember how awkward it felt when Sarah from marketing cornered you by the punch bowl and wouldn't stop talking loudly about a co-worker's recent absence?

Geoffrey Tumlin, in his book “Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life,” offers five ways to avoid trouble:

>> Embargo the eggnog. “One of the main reasons for verbal blunders at company holiday parties is that alcohol lowers our inhibitions, which erodes both our conversational restraint and our self-monitoring ability.” Avoid drinking yourself — and the person who has had too much. But what if your boss is pressuring you to drink? “You can get a drink and nurse it, or get a drink and say you need to say hello to someone.”

>> Master the exit. You can tactfully break contact by excusing yourself to the food line, to the restroom or by saying that you need to say hello to someone. (Your boss is often a good excuse.) But if someone is causing a disruption, don't worry about being tactful — just make a quick exit.

>> Invest five minutes in recalling names. You can avoid many uncomfortable moments by recalling, just before the party starts, names of people you expect to see. If you end up stumped on a name at the party, early in the conversation say something like “Please tell me your name again.” The longer you wait, the more awkward it becomes.

>> Partner up smartly. You can eliminate the dreaded party introduction by establishing a few moves with your spouse, partner or co-worker, such as: If you hesitate, they should automatically introduce themselves. “This will trigger a reciprocal introduction and, crucially, will produce the name you can't recall.” You can always follow up with, “I'm sorry, Jim, I should have introduced you two.” Also, a partner can give you the external excuses needed to tactfully move on.

>> Don’t disguise stalking as networking. It’s a good idea to offer holiday greetings to your colleagues, your direct reports and your boss, but don’t seek out all of the head honchos and try to give them yuletide greetings. “Don’t stand in line to talk to someone you barely know.”

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