How to Survive This Year’s Holiday Party (with or without free booze)


Now that I work for myself, I’m dependent on my husband’s company for the Christmas party. And this year, it almost got canceled. Luckily it’s still on, but as part of the cutbacks – no drink tickets!

If you’re in the same boat, don’t despair. A cocktail or two can go a long way toward loosening up a diverse group of colleagues and their spouses or dates, but those same libations can also rob you of your better judgment, which you might need to make appropriate conversation. 

Steer Clear of Touchy Subjects

When it comes to chatting up people you don’t know well or haven’t seen in a while, be wary of asking about the following:

  • What does your husband/wife do? They may not have one.
  • Didn’t you have a baby? Weren’t you pregnant?
  • How’s your job at ABC Corp?
  • What are you doing for Christmas? Believe it or not, everyone doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

It’s best to ask open-ended questions. You can then use the answers to probe deeper. This is easier said than done, but you’ll do better if you concentrate on making an effort to talk to people. (It’s a lot easier to focus if you lay off the cash bar!)

Try these:

  • What’s your favorite thing about the holidays?
  • How does this time of year affect your work?
  • What’s new with your family since last we spoke?
  • Do you have plans for the holidays?
  • Did you get to do any traveling this year?

And when someone asks you a question, try to give them something to work with. Or, if they ask  you something that requires only a yes or no answer, turn it around into an opportunity for conversation.

Prepare to Talk Small

Small talk is easier when you get the other person talking and they’re more likely to do that when they feel good. Say something nice, even if it’s obvious. Complimenting someone’s attire, title, or minor accomplishment can get the conversation going. And remember to try and find something interesting about everything.

Before a party, try to come up with a few standby topics for the evening. Do yourself a favor by making it something you’re actually interested in. I’ve been getting plenty of mileage out of the stray dog I took in. Almost everyone has a story about an animal in distress or an adopted pet. To go the extra mile, if you know you’ll be seeing certain people and you have time, refresh yourself on their interests.

No matter how you accomplish it, once you get people talking, you can sit back and relax. And if you’re lucky, one of your new friends may buy you a drink!

Image Credit: Jacob Botter, Flickr

  • Drea

    Nice tips, Lela. I like the fact that your dog has been serving you well in conversation. It’s going to be hard avoiding the rote “how’s work?” question.

  • Dimitris


    Do you even need a survival guide to go to an (even sponsored by the company you work for) party? This is an example of a catchy phrase ending up lame phrase.

    My “survival guide” (altough it’s most likely you ‘ll still have a heartbeat if you don’t follow it) is lots of bitter humor and no talking to people that appear to you like jerks or don’t want to talk to anyway.

    Also, bring your PSP/NintendoDS/SymbianS60phone with you, an MP3 player and a portable television. That should keep the party rolling…