So you’ve decided. You can’t skip out on the holiday party at work; you have to go. Here are some tips to make a good impression and make the whole event as painless as possible. (If you haven’t decided if you’re going yet, check out my previous blog entry on what professionals with Asperger’s and autism, as well as those who just don’t enjoy socializing at work, should consider before decided to skip the holiday party.)
Do Some Prep Work
Find out the basics before the party. How formal is the event and what are people wearing? Are spouses expected to attend? How about kids? Is a meal being served? Ask your favorite coworkers, or check with the party planner if it’s not obvious from the invitation or announcement.
Plan Some Small Talk
Before the party, think about a few topics of conversation. You’ll want to know the basics of the major news stories. Even if you don’t bring them up, others may. Take a look at the lighter topics too. Sites like the Yahoo home page will give you the top news, sports and entertainment stories. Or, listen to popular radio on the drive to the office.
Watch the Time
It can be awkward to be the first to arrive at a party. But, you also don’t want to have the whole company waiting for you before the meal can be served. How late to show up depends on the length of the event. For a 90 minute lunch during the workday, just leave the office when everyone else does. For a Saturday dinner party, thirty minutes late is pretty standard, at least in the US. If a scheduled event is starting the evening, like a harbor cruise or some type of entertainment, find out when that occurs and aim to get there at that time.
Some people can easily manage a drink or two at a party. But if you’re reading this, chances are party socializing is not your strength. Stick to a club soda.
Topics to Avoid
Just because it’s a party doesn’t mean that the work rules are all suspended. Your coworkers may be more relaxed than usual or even a bit drunk. (Or maybe a lot!) Still, avoid criticizing anyone, gossiping, and anything that might be offensive to others, like sexual harassment, any off color humor, or controversial discussions.
This is also the time that discussions about your work projects may not be appropriate. Many neurotypicals like to socialize and unwind at a party. Your discussion of the latest experiment may be considered rude or dull. Save it for Monday.
Small Talk at the Party
Conversations at a party can be a bit different than those at the office. They may be more personal, with more joking and teasing. That doesn’t mean you need to initiate these styles of conversation, but you may get pulled into them. Just try to adapt and not be offended.
If you've brought a spouse, be sure to introduce and include him or her. Talk to your coworkers spouses too.
When Can You Leave?
If possible, try not to be the first to leave. But, you get most of the credit for just showing up. Once you’ve talked to the major players, namely your boss, other bosses you want to impress, and your employees, you can safely exit. Try to thank the party planners too!
There, you did it! I didn’t say it was going to be fun, but you’ve attended, socialized and you’re free till next year, or at least the January birthday event.
Patricia Robinson MFT
I'm a licensed therapist in Danville, California and a coach for Asperger's and ADHD nationwide. I work with individuals of all ages who have special needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD, and the family members and partners of special needs individuals.