Holly Culhane

Holly Culhane, 2016.

Likely your mother warned you about the dangers of the “dreaded” company holiday party. Don’t get drunk. Don’t make a fool of yourself. It could ruin your career.

Company holiday parties are excellent opportunities to meet and bond with co-workers. They are times for impressing your supervisors and others in the company. Your attendance will demonstrate your commitment to your company.

But before you grab your first appetizer, you should consider how you will behave. You should develop a plan for making the holiday party a success — for your company and for yourself.

Let’s first address the elephant in the room — alcohol.

Before you go to the party, decide if you will drink and how much you will drink. Truthfully, it would be best if you drank NO alcohol. Drinking impairs your ability to think and control your behavior. This impairment also prevents you from reading subtle nonverbal clues that can reveal the impression you are making on others at the party.

Drink too much and you become the employee who “acted a fool,” as your mother warned. Drink too much and drive home, and you become the criminal who may be out of a job.

From beginning to end, there are other steps you can take to make your attendance at your company’s holiday party a success:

• Arrival – don’t be the first to arrive. If possible, go home after work and freshen up. Arrive at the party after you suspect most of your co-workers already are there. Also don’t be the last to leave. Don’t stay to the point of your exhaustion.

• Eat – Don’t go to a party, particularly one serving alcohol, with an empty stomach. Besides, it’s never easy balancing a food plate, drink and talking to people. If you don’t go to the party hungry, you can just nibble and mingle.

• Dress code — Think about what you will wear. Ask your supervisor or trusted co-worker about a dress code. Don’t believe the office prankster when he says it’s a costume party. Remember the party is still a “business” event. It’s OK to be stylish and fun, but too flashy and too revealing can make the wrong impression.

• Name tags — If they offer them, wear them — and put them near your right shoulder. When shaking hands with people, it’s natural for you to look to their right side, and it will be easier for them to see your name — and for you to see theirs.

• Body language – Think about how you will introduce yourself. Be brief, but warm. “Hi, I’m Jim from accounting.” While it’s expected that conversations will be work-related, don’t talk “business.” Don’t go into the party with an “agenda.” Keep it light. Don’t gossip. Stand up straight. Don’t cross your legs. Don’t use your food plate as a “barrier.” Strike an “open pose,” which includes not crossing your arms across your chest. Shake hands. Hug only if you are sure the person you are hugging welcomes the contact. Smile. Facial expressions can change people’s emotional states.

• Disconnect – Put your smartphone down. Try not to check your text or email. Turn your phone’s ringer off. Give party-goers your full attention.

• Social media – Watch what you say before and after the party on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Don’t post embarrassing photographs. Ask party-goers for their permission before posting their photographs.

• Oxygen – Depending on the length of the party, take a break. Go outside and get some fresh air before returning to a warm, crowded venue. This will clear your head and give you the energy to make a good impression. If you smoke when you head outside, be sure to “freshen” your scent before returning indoors — but don’t overdo it!

And, when it’s time to leave, do the polite thing. Don’t just sneak out the back door. Find the people who organized the holiday party. Thank them for inviting you and planning the event. Tell them you enjoyed the party. Provide specifics if you can.

Mind your manners. Develop a plan. Stick to it. And your company holiday party will be a success.

Holly Culhane is president of the Bakersfield-based human resources consulting firm P.A.S. Associates and P.A.S. Investigations.