It's time again for that much-maligned tradition, the company Christmas party. It's true that these oh-so-festive occasions are fraught with peril, but they can present a real opportunity, too, when we know how to approach them.
When they're perilous, it's usually due to mixing business, pleasure and large quantities of alcohol, which makes them a likely occasion for flirtations to begin, romances to burst into flame, rumors to be conceived, rude jokes to be told, and both old and new hostilities and grievances to be aired.
On the other hand, Christmas parties provide us with the chance to view others from a slightly different perspective, and to prove that we (a) are fun people; (b) know how to make snappy patter; and (c) can be trusted not to get drunk and leave the party wearing the centerpiece.
Here are eight ways to improve your chances of leaving this year's Christmas party with your self-respect and good reputation intact, and your professional image enhanced:
* Do attend. No matter how sympathetic your boss may act when you explain that your pet gerbil is giving birth and you have to be there, you'll be doing yourself no good if you give this party a pass.
In addition, you'll deprive yourself of the chance to meet new people, form potentially stronger bonds with professional contacts, shine socially and eat free shrimp.
* Arrive well after the party has begun. The first half-hour to hour of any party is always awkward. Plus, if you get there too early, you may get roped into helping with all those last-minute details that (as some harried male is likely to tell you) need "a woman's touch."
* Know when the party's over. There's a point during every party when people's energy level begins to drop, liquor consumption begins to increase, the office Casanovas begin to leer, and savvy working women head for home -- alone.
* Don't be a shrinking violet. If you huddle alone in a corner or spend the evening clinging to the arm of your best workplace friend, you may feel safer, but you'll do your professional image no good at all.
Take a deep breath instead, and remind yourself that the best way to overcome shyness is to stop worrying about ourselves (how we look, how we sound, how acceptable we're going to be) and concentrate on making others who are probably just as shy as we are feel comfortable.
* When in doubt, say less rather than more. Say nothing about a co-worker or supervisor that you wouldn't say if he or she were standing there. Repeat nothing you overhear from any source.
* Dress conservatively. This is not the time to show off that sexy little black dress.
* Drink alcohol moderately, or not at all.
* Last, don't confuse this sort of party with the usual ones you attend. It may look festive and sound informal, but your guard should remain up at all times.
This is not the time to divulge secrets, bare your soul, or indulge yourself in any way. It's the time to make it perfectly clear that you're a gracious, intelligent, mature, savvy professional who's not only promotable, but could reliably represent your company in any situation.