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March 10, 2009

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The office party is a queer animal. Is it office, or is it party? In fact, it's a little bit of both. That means not relaxing office standards, while using it as the excellent schmoozing opportunity that parties inevitably are.

Just as at any party, you should take the opportunity to meet and mingle with people whom you might not get a chance to see otherwise. You can approach people and ask them what department they work in. Express interest - and perhaps you two can arrange to meet for lunch in the company cafeteria. The office party is also an excellent chance to chat with CEOs and other executives that you might not normally encounter. Do your research - find out what they've done recently, what their hobbies are, how their unit is performing financially. That way, when you approach them, you'll have something to talk about - and maybe have the chance to mention a pet project of yours as well. The relative informality of parties makes it even easier to meet people of interest to you.

While there are a few "dos" at office parties, there are just as many "don'ts." First and foremost, don't drink too much. In fact, if you can help it, don't drink at all. You may wish to keep a drink in your left hand. This will both keep your right hand free to shake, and prevent anyone from giving you another drink.

Your career can be negatively impacted by making a fool of yourself at office parties. Avoid discussing sensitive topics, and squelch the temptation gossip. "I've seen people make complete asses of themselves at office parties," says Ben, a former writer at Zagat's, the country's premier restaurant guide publisher. "At one big office bash, a senior editor got completely drunk. He ended up smoking pot with the editorial assistants. And then he tried to kiss one of them. It was so horrible that no one said anything, but he ended up leaving the company two months later." For every office party flirtation that has blossomed into lifelong love, there are 10 ill-advised passes (or worse, abortive trysts) that result.

Another consumption caution - eat slowly and thoroughly. Sloppily chowing your way through a plate of chicken wings is sure to appall coworkers and bosses alike. Though you'll be in a relaxed atmosphere, remember that you have to see all of these people the next morning.

Now go have (some) fun!

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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