I know, I know, the only way to get through an event like this is to drink gin-and-tonics until they don’t care you forgot their names, and the jokes about booking Conference Room D actually sound funny. But resist! This is a big moment for your partner, and you. Challenging your wife’s boss to a worm-off isn’t exactly great for her career aspirations.
There are better ways to get through the night — choices that will leave your significant other in better standing with her colleagues, who may actually be excited to see you again, too. I asked CEOs, etiquette experts, dating coaches and experienced office-partygoers how to make the best impression at your partner’s holiday shindig.
Honestly, Don’t Even Come
Brett Bonnet, Co-founder and President of Quality Logo Products: I personally always leave my plus-one at home, and my advice is that you do too — whether that’s a friend, spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend interchangeably. There might be varying tiers of behavior requirements for each plus-one type, but the basic expectations and liabilities are the same across the board: Their behavior has the ability to impact you professionally.
For example, if my plus-one says or does something inappropriate, it can reflect badly upon me. Some topics you would normally think would be okay are not work-event-appropriate. Company outings are really meant to be a bonding experience where everyone can take their eyes off their computer monitors for a few minutes and socialize without the normal pressures of work. Having your plus-one makes interacting with your co-workers more difficult as you are trying your best to make sure your plus-one is also having a good time.
And if you still want to bring your plus-one, have them spend some time on your company’s “About Us” page. From an employer’s perspective, it’s always nice when an employee’s plus-one knows my name, is complimentary and is generally pleasant. Be respectful, come prepared and be on your best behavior whenever tagging along with a friend or family member to their company outing!
Impress Your Partner
Alana Ogilvie, Couples Therapist in Portland: Going to a holiday party is definitely about schmoozing with your partner’s co-workers and staying on your best behavior to impress them. But I think it’s equally important to go into every event or party wanting to impress your partner.
Knowing what they want out of the event will help you make the best impression as a team. Because the truth is holiday parties can be stressful, exciting, dreadful or joyous, and knowing where your partner stands on hanging out with their co-workers will help you make the most of the event.
Let’s say your partner doesn’t want to be left in a one-on-one conversation with Janice from accounting. Be sure to stick by them and help take some of the heat. Say your partner wants to get a little loose with the holiday punch and would love to not have to worry about getting you both home. Offer to drive or make arrangements, so the event can be as fun and stress-free as possible. Because at the end of the party, if you both feel like you went into it together, you’ll both have a much better time.
Prepare to Be on Your Own
Kelly Bos, Relationship Expert in Canada: Ask your partner for a rundown of what prior parties have been like, the culture of the workplace and, additionally, what is expected in terms of dress code. No one likes to be black-tie-ready for an ugly-sweater theme.
That said, if you’ve met colleagues before, be sure to be personable and ask about their family, pets or trip to Florida. People feel engaged and connected when they know people are paying attention.
You might find at work parties you need to be a bit self-sufficient. I just attended my husband’s holiday party where he was the emcee, meaning I barely saw him all night. Because of this, I made my own conversations or simply was content to sit on my own at times, and I knew this would be the case. Your partner might need to work the room or a number of inside jokes might be occurring at your table. Just look around and engage others. There is no doubt another workmate’s partner is eager to talk about something else.
Learn Your Partner’s Goals
Miguel Suro, Attorney and Lifestyle Blogger in Florida: My wife is also a lawyer, so I’ve gone to to plenty of her firm’s holiday parties and outings when she was in private practice. In fact, I did so while working for a competing law firm, and yet still made a good impression and got along with everyone.
So here’s what you should do. Some days before the party, ask your partner to brief you on the people at the office and the social dynamics and office politics involved, to avoid mistakes. For example, if two people hate each other, you don’t want to try to pull both into the same conversation.
Also, ask your partner if they have any particular goals at the party and how you fit in with helping them accomplish such goals.
While at the party, aim to make an impression of being a fun, nice, successful and well-adjusted person. The last thing you want is to embarrass your partner, or make her bosses dread inviting her to holiday parties because you’ll be there. So don’t try to show off or look like you’re trying too hard to fit in. Be polite and pleasant (and even a bit formal), and let her take the lead in introducing you to her co-workers. Let conversations flow naturally.
Some conversations will be over quickly, while others will last longer as the group “clicks.” Contribute, but don’t try to be the “star” or life of the party. You don’t want to outshine your partner, nor should you voice controversial opinions, especially on politics or religion. Ask a lot of questions and give very few opinions, especially if you’re not asked for them.
When you’re introduced to someone, repeat their name or title as appropriate. For example, “it’s a pleasure to meet you, John,” or “it’s a pleasure to meet you, Professor.”
Finally, dress well but conservatively. If you have a nice watch, wear it. Drink as little as possible, and only dance if your partner asks you to. You don’t want to garner a reputation as a party animal, especially if it’s not appropriate at that workplace.
Set a Two-Drink Maximum
Stef Safran, Dating Coach and Matchmaker in Chicago: First and foremost, dress appropriately; wearing something a little too comfy or revealing for a work party can reflect on your significant other.
Next, set a two-drink maximum for yourself. It may be fun to have a lot to drink, but in front of your significant other’s workers is probably not the place.
It wouldn’t hurt to take a page out of The Devil Wears Prada and learn a few people who are important to your SO’s company, or do a quick social media check to learn a bit about the people that are important to your significant other.
Susan Petang, Lifestyle & Stress Management Coach in New York: I’ve found that the most effective thing we can do at social gatherings — not only to leave a good impression, but to actually enjoy the experience — is practice “active listening.” That is, paying close attention to what others are saying, reflecting back the core of the message and asking questions.
For example, you meet your partner’s co-worker who has Great Danes. Your response could be, “So you have four Great Danes! What’s it like to take care of them all?” Or, “Great Danes are such big, beautiful dogs! You must buy a lot of dog food! Tell me about them.” People love to talk about themselves — so let them do it. Make sure you listen closely and reflect back what was said so the other person feels heard.
Even if you come across the nonstop bore at the party, mentally pat yourself on the back for making them feel important and special, and see what you can learn from everybody you speak to — people are interesting!
You’ll leave the impression of being a caring, compassionate individual — and score points with your partner and their coworkers.
Meet Everyone Before Imbibing
Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com: I’ve attended holiday parties as my husband’s plus-one and also had employees bring their spouses to my company holiday parties. Be yourself if you want to make a good impression with your partner’s co-workers! Smile and make the meet-and-greet rounds, allowing your partner to introduce you to everyone. Many holiday parties do include open bars, so I would advise waiting until you have met everyone to get a drink. It frees up your hands to shake with everyone you meet, and a first impression of you holding a drink versus one without the drink can be quite impactful to others.
Don’t Get Too Affectionate With Your Partner
Alex Tran, Digital Marketing Strategist with Hollingsworth: My partner works for Amazon and they have awesome holiday parties. We make good impressions by just being ourselves. We are both professional and good storytellers, so we connect with people easily because we are extroverted and can pretty much exist in the same room without having to be hand-in-hand 24/7. I want to leave the impression that we’re friendly, welcoming and care about each other without all the lovey-doveyness.
Collect Some Convo Starters
Diane Gottsman, Etiquette Expert in Texas and Author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life: First and foremost, you need to be prepared that you’re not going to stick to them like glue for the entire evening. It’s important for both of you to mix and mingle and be comfortable at it. So even if you don’t feel comfortable, you have to work at making conversation with other people.
It’s all of our jobs as a guest of any form to be interesting. That means that we come to the table prepared with a few conversation starters. So while your significant other is mixing and mingling, you should make it a point to join the conversation by asking questions: “How long have you been with the company?” “What is your favorite part of the job?” “What are your plans for this holiday season?” It doesn’t have to stay business, it can also be social — talk about the theater or a play that’s going on. Just something to make pleasant holiday conversation.
Also, whether you’re the girlfriend, boyfriend, fiancé or whatever you are, remember that it’s a social office party, but the word “office” comes into play — make it your job to not overindulge. Even though you might be nervous and want to have an extra glass of wine or a shot of something, you want to make sure that you’re on your best behavior and you definitely don’t want to get drunk at your significant other’s holiday party.