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by Cathy Vandewater | December 16, 2011


'Tis the season for office parties, secret Santa exchanges, and getting to know your coworkers a little better (sometimes more than you ever wanted to, thanks to company-funded open bars). But you don't need that light-up reindeer sweater to stand out in all the revelry. There are better—and more appropriate--ways to make your mark at work during this holiday season.

1. Accept all invitations

Invited to something by a coworker? Go. But it's just a party for your boss's roommate's cousin? Go. But you won't know anyone? For crying out loud, get out of your Forever Lazy and go.

You can never predict who you'll meet in what context at a party, but showing up is always better than not showing up—especially if someone from work invites you. First of all, if you said you'd go and you actually go, you'll look like a stand up guy just by being there. Secondly, if everyone else flakes and it's an "intimate" gathering (re: no one else came), you can take advantage by chatting up a few interesting people one on one. Awkwardness can be a great bonding mechanism.

Bottom line: if you have a single conversation, well, that's still one more new contact you've made than if you'd stayed home with Netflix. Trust us--you won't have this many opportunities to meet people in the dead of January. Take advantage of it.

2. Spread Holiday cheer

Do whatever you can to spread a little cheer, even if you're not the Christmas type. Give gifts, send cards, bake cookies and pass them out at work. This is another way to get around a shyness or aversion to parties, because giving a present or sending a seasonal card is a built in social interaction. Curious about what your old boss is up to? Want to follow up with a new contact you met at a party? Send something. It can be small, edible or even silly—preferably all three. That's why there's such a thing as moustache cookie cutters.

Scared of rejection? You shouldn't be. A card or gift is always likely to be well received, simply because it's thoughtful, and "Happy Holidays" is a much more natural reason to say hello than the ole' "just checking in" email you'd send in July. Another plus: having your name associated with cookies. It's never a bad thing.

3. Show a Little Personality

Holiday cheer has a way of loosening up office culture, for better or worse. Barring singing ties and socks, why not take the opportunity to show a fun or creative side to yourself? A little "flair" (to quote Office Space) is a great way to spark conversations at work beyond spreadsheets—especially if it's adorable, like a handmade ornament from your kids, or funny, like a silly card from your brother in law displayed on your desk.  

Just be sure to keep it tasteful (again, no singing ties), and make as good show of getting your work done as you do your holiday spirit.

4. Get Involved

Of course, it's the season for giving as well as receiving, and with all the seasonal cheer, it will be easier than usual to get people on board the Giving Train. Take advantage by organizing a charitable activity or outing for your office, like taking a field trip to a soup kitchen, or set a goal for toy collection on the office white board. A common purpose will bring your office together, and you might even start a new tradition. Again, not a bad thing to have your name attached to around the office (charity is almost as good as cookies!).

Meanwhile, the quality time spent ladling soup or sorting food cans next to your boss and coworkers will give you a chance to get to know them better, minus the usual office buzz that keeps you from connecting for long. You might even want to have your elevator pitch ready for the new project, just in case. With no distractions, your manager may be all ears.

5. Pitch In

Ever notice how we tend to remember events better when strong emotions are attached to them? Apply that concept to the panic your boss and half your team will be feeling as they scramble to get ready for parties at 4:30pm—and you volunteer to stay and finish up the project due at 5. If you can spare the time, you'll really shine, and your colleagues won't soon forget it. Even better, they'll be more willing to cover you when that party of the year happens on a work night, or you need a two-hour lunch to gift shop.

Another simple way to stand out: take the extra steps to prep for your own OOO time. Finish projects ahead of deadline, and outline next steps for whoever's standing in for you. They'll appreciate the leg up, and by ensuring everything goes smoothly in your absence, you'll look great to your boss, too.

--Cathy Vandewater,


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