Even though the economy is tough and money overall is tighter, perhaps your company still has some form of a Christmas party or gathering. If you are wise, you’d do well to remember that even though the party is outside official company hours, the opportunities for advancing or limiting your career are present are very much ‘on’ and real from the time you walk into the room until you are back home again when it’s over. Odd then that so many people act and behave as if the person they are at work, and the person they are at a Christmas party are not connected.
You’ll usually find that there are some surprises at social gatherings. Some take parties as a chance to dress up and pull out suits and dresses closer to formal wear. They shock their co-workers who see them at the party as suddenly glamorous, handsome and attractive. All of a sudden that guy in the mailroom you thought was invisible, the boss you think is too highly strung, or the clerk who you thought would be better suited to a library job, looks stunning. The boundaries seem less defined at a party; the alcohol, the dancing, the music, the social interaction; put it all together and you may forget quickly that tomorrow these same people will all revert back to the people you work with daily.
And if you should happen to meet Cinderella at the ball, you won’t have to look far across a country to find her Monday morning, she may well be sitting at the next cubicle. That close proximity could be extremely uncomfortable if you behaved in a way that was not welcomed. The possibility of course is that your behaviour was one hundred percent welcomed at the time too, but in the reality of the fluorescent lighting of the workplace, one or both of you wish whatever happened hadn’t. Awkward.
Social functions can be great places to network and while I’m not saying you should be making the rounds with your business cards in hand passing them round, they can be places where you can make a good impression over a few hours in a way you simply can’t in the regular workplace. Here you can show off your social skills, your interpersonal strengths, maybe in a way your position doesn’t allow on a daily basis. Say you are a crossing guard, you collect recycling and waste, you paint lines on roads; these jobs are largely isolating, and you seldom run into other employees at all, let alone ones that might take notice of you. The party could just possibly give you the opportunity to meet people you’d otherwise not, and form the basis of a relationship that could help your career.
Days or weeks after any gathering, you could possibly contact those you’ve met at a Christmas party, and drop off a, ‘nice to have met you at the Christmas party’ note, or possibly set up a further meeting. Those good at networking know that networking is all about building and nurturing relationships. Business often gets done at gatherings, or sets up future business. And if you act in bad taste, your poor interpersonal skills can seriously damage relationships, and turn people off from doing business with you.
Think about the water cooler gossip the first day back at work before you even leave for the party. What would you like people to be talking about if your name came up? The sexy red dress with the long slit, how you can’t handle your alcohol intake, the slap you got from patting the bosses bum? Or would you like them to talk about how great you looked, how much you laughed and had a good time, how terrific you looked with your makeup? “Usually shy at work but get her out from behind that desk and she’s got people skills this company could use!”
Not everyone looks forward to social gatherings with co-workers. You may be the center of attention at work, highly sociable and extroverted, but at an unstructured party where the rules of engagement have changed, you’re suddenly socially awkward. The expectation that others have of you may not be your reality, and you may be the person who leaves earliest, shuns interaction and wants to revert to the sidelines. While nothing you are doing is overtly damaging, it isn’t helping your cause to be there and not in the spotlight where others expect you’d be. “What’s wrong with Matt? Not having a good time?”
Christmas parties are equally important for the unemployed. Maybe you’re going as the spouse of an employee, or you’re attending a community Christmas party. All these dances, parties, and get-togethers, whether at someone’s home or a restaurant rented for the occasion are opportunities to kick-start your career or get to know someone who might pass your name on to someone else who is hiring. Be on your best behaviour, have a good time, but act in a way that you have nothing to regret when it’s over.
And a word if you are attending a function of your significant others too. Just because you don’t know more than one or two people at a party, doesn’t mean your partner’s reputation is completely isolated from your behaviour. Avoid arguments tomorrow when you’ve got a bad hangover and can’t remember doing or saying things that hurt their career, make their job uncomfortable moving forward, and limit their career.
Here’s to you!