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Everything can be going great at work. You’re doing well at your job. You are well liked by your peers and are being considered by your superiors for additional opportunities. Perhaps a career change or promotion is just around the corner. Then you get the invitation to the company holiday party, and it hits you: There’s a lot on the line right now and you don’t want to mess it up, but you’ve never actually socialized with these people before. What is the appropriate way to act, and how can you keep from making any major faux pas that will stop your career advancement in its tracks?

Career counselors suggest the best approach is one of moderation-in all things. For starters, their biggest career advice would probably have to center around a common social lubricant and potential problem at almost all holiday parties-alcohol. While it may be advisable to have a small-and weak-drink or two at the party to be sociable, excessive drinking is an absolute no-no. And in fact, overindulgence in alcohol-i.e., getting drunk and stupid-is the number one reason for almost all major etiquette mistakes at company parties.

When you drink too much, common sense and tact seem to go right out of the window. Before you know it, you are acting like a fool, talking too much, and embarrassing yourself and your date and probably your colleagues, as well. Staying sober is the key to controlling your tongue and all of your actions-and to remembering what happened the next day. Regardless of whether your boss or one of your colleagues gets totally toasted or not, you should definitely not.

Having said that, moderation at the company holiday party is important in more than just alcohol consumption. Eating should also be done in moderation. You don’t want to be remembered as the person who ate all the shrimp at the party or the one who overindulged in anything-whether food or spirits.

What you wear should also take a moderate approach. When you decide what to wear, go with something appropriate for socializing with business colleagues, something somewhat conservative, and attrite that is in keeping with your career aspirations. If the party is casual, go casual, and if it’s fancy, go fancy, but don’t wear something too flashy or too revealing, for example.

It’s also important to limit how much you talk so that you do not dominate the conversation and to monitor your volume and tone of voice. You don’t want to stand out in the crowd or be marked as the obnoxious one of the bunch. And you definitely don’t want to garner any negative attention.

In order to avoid negative attention, you should also avoid negativity at the party entirely. That means don’t spend time complaining about work, your coworkers, the economy, or really anything. If the people you are socializing with are focusing on these kinds of negative things, gently steer the conversation toward more positive topics. If you can’t do that successfully, limit your time with them and move on to other groups that are talking about something else.

Career Counselors Advise that you should mingle at the company holiday party. Your goal is not to dominate a particular person or conversation or to appear standoffish to other employees and their guests. You should try to make small talk and be pleasant with everyone and move about in a natural, social manner. Spend an adequate amount of time with the various people you speak with and give them your undivided attention when you are with them. Then make a point of moving throughout the room to talk with others, as well. You want to stay on pleasant, good terms with everyone in the organization, if possible. You never know when a shift in company dynamics or corporate structure could spell an internal career change, and you don’t want to burn any bridges.

Remember, this may be a company holiday party, but career counselors suggest you remember that “party” is not the predominant word here. So don’t take the word too literally. Keep your career options open by remembering that this is still a business function.

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