Expert tips for navigating the office holiday party with grace

PHOTO: Coworkers chat at a holiday office party.PlaySTOCK PHOTO/Getty Images
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Of all the things that can go wrong during the holidays — travel, gifts not arriving on time, annoying in-laws practically moving in — there's one event filled with land mines that people seem to forget about year after year.

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The office holiday party.

Sharon Schweitzer, the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, shared with ABC News her top tips for navigating the party's potential pitfalls and coming out unscathed.

RSVP

Be sure to respond to an invitation with 48 hours, regardless of whether it comes via Evite, email, telephone or traditional methods, Schweitzer said.

"As much as you may not wish to attend the office holiday party, you must. Attendance is practically mandatory. Failing to go to the annual holiday party sends a negative message. Executives and upper management will take note," she said.

Don't automatically assume you may take a guest

Be sure to read the invitation carefully. Know the company policy on guests or whether the event is employees only or allows a plus one. Schweitzer said to "discreetly check ahead of time to determine whether spouses or dates are welcome."

Dress to impress

The holiday party is "one of your few chances to see colleagues outside the office," Schweitzer said. She suggests dressing up, "the right way." The event, she said, should be considered an extension of the workday, so it's "all business. Choose modest attire that maintains the professional reputation you've built. Avoid short skirts, tight clothes or inappropriate ugly Christmas sweaters."

Don't binge at the buffet

Eat a small amount of protein before the party to curb your appetite, Schweitzer suggests.

"Be considerate of others and remember your etiquette basics. Keep hands clean and avoid a mouth full of hors d'oeuvres. Avoid walking around with a full plate, do not double dip or eat over the chafing dish, and properly discard toothpicks, napkins and plates," she said.

Network, network, network

"This is your chance to converse with senior leaders of the organization with whom you may not typically get much face time," Schweitzer said. "Avoid clinging to your cubby buddy. Instead, meet customers and new faces from other departments. If you work for a large organization and don't often see the CEO, introduce yourself, state the department you work in and shake their hand. Keep your beverage in your left hand so your right is dry and free to shake."

And be sure to "thank the hosts, party planners and your superiors when departing," she added. "Avoid gossip or talking shop, skip controversial conversation topics, and keep the mood positive and light. Travel, pets, movies and books are conversation starters. At all costs, avoid appearing bored and ready to dash for the door."

Don't be Monday's gossip

"This is probably the most common mistake that executives make during the holiday party," she said. "Alcohol and a loose tongue may add up to a regretful Monday morning equation. Consider tea, club soda or water. If you choose to drink, do so responsibly."

Don't clap for yourself

"The CEO may offer a toast during the evening. When the toast is for a colleague, raise your glass at the conclusion of the toast, when the host raises their glass. Do not touch your glass with everyone else's. It is unnecessary and distracting. Pause afterward and watch. The recipient will most likely reciprocate with a toast," Schweitzer said.

She continued, "If you have been a star performer, you may be honored with a toast. Stand and accept it gracefully. Refrain from drinking to a toast offered in your honor, as this is akin to clapping for yourself. Be sure to stand and make a toast to the person who toasted you, thanking them for the recognition."

Watch the clock

"Be sure to arrive and leave at appropriate times," she said. "Arriving too late shows a lack of appreciation, and overstaying is inconsiderate to the hosts. Arrive within 15 to 20 minutes of the start time, and leave 30 minutes before the end time."

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