The Christmas party season has arrived. In recent years my feelings have varied from excitement to ambivalence and even avoidance at times. It may not be high on everyone’s festive list with its one size fits all approach to celebrating but this year I’m going to throw myself into the swing of things.
My goal is to be social in an authentic way as I navigate small talk, over-indulgence and the dance floor. To help me prepare, I met up with Marcus Oakey, founder of Your Charisma Coach, a social skills training company, and we discussed office party dilemmas, over some mulled wine.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
Just like in sports, good preparation, positioning and mindset are key. Before even arriving, Marcus champions the principle of warming up.
"Try and get yourself into a social state, by having some short conversations with people that cross your path on the way to the party e.g. taxi driver, barista or shopkeeper. These are people after all with stories and interesting lives and not just there to serve you, so it can be a win-win for both of you," he explains.
On arrival, he recommends finding a central location so as to avoid isolating yourself. This strategy provides more opportunities for natural conversation and keeps the night more fluid.
"Stay in the social spaces where there is a steady flow of people e.g. bar, a central table, on the way to the toilet or the smoking area."
According to Marcus, the success of a social night out will be found in the mindset: "A good mindset is to be a host, and be warm in your interactions without looking for anything in return".
Be generous when it comes to introducing people, remembers important details about those in your circle, ask questions and have a genuine curiosity in others. To be interesting we first have to be interested.
Take inspiration from George Bernard Shaw.
Marcus states that "curiosity, empathy and interest in others go way further than focusing on the perfect impression or the right thing to say".
In a recent conversation with a colleague, they described someone as having the ability to wear things lightly. It’s a phrase by George Bernard Shaw highlighting the social art of discussing topics of interest with lightness and leaving space for the other person.
Remaining humble and considerate can be more charming and creates comfort and opportunity for others to reveal their more interesting sides. So remember - it’s a party and the only KPI in town is getting on with others.
Disco ball in the work canteen
When I arrive at a work engagement, I like to move around the room a few times and meet the senior people in the organisation, have a quick chat and wish them festive greetings and move on.
Having witnessed a few falls from grace over the years, I fully embrace that work parties are still a work event and the golden rule is I don’t try to solve any disputes or say anything that I wouldn’t say in the cold light of day.
In terms of alcohol, pace yourself at least to a group average and have a couple of people who can warn you if you are in the amber zone early in the night. Marcus agrees with this strategy and adds that if someone says you’re in the red zone, get a taxi and leave.
To each their own
Work cultures are founded on the actions and behaviour of people at all levels of an organisation. I believe we can all contribute something positive to the Christmas party which has the potential to build connections beyond the night itself.
Yes, it has its challenges but maybe it still remains part of our role to bring something to the party table once a year. However, if it’s not your year, that’s ok, respect where you’re at, wish your colleagues well and join them next year.
You can find out more about Marcus at www.yourcharismacoach.com