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The Office party – SCMP Interview

Think before you drink.

By Lau Kit-wai

After drinking a few glasses of red wine, young executives having fun at an office Christmas party may commit indiscretions such as getting too emotional or telling their bosses what they really think of them.

Alice Kaushal, an expert in business etiquette, image and customer relations, says one important rule is to avoid getting drunk at an office party, as one silly incident could ruin your reputation in seconds.

“If you lose control, questions will be raised in your bosses’ minds,” says Kaushal, managing director of Refine Consulting. “They will ask themselves: can we trust this person to be the face of the company?”

Young professionals should be on their best behaviour at all times during an office party, she adds. Avoid bringing up controversial subjects, such as the issue of pay rises, and stay away from gossipers.

“There’s no such thing as purely social in Hong Kong,” Kaushal says.

She adds that many members of the so-called Generation Y – those born in the 1980s – have underestimated the value of networking at office parties. According to Kaushal, baby-boomer bosses prefer seeing people face-to-face rather than receiving an e-mail or text with a “Merry Christmas” message.

However, it can be difficult for the new kid on the block to warm into networking, especially in large companies with hundreds of staff.

Kaushal suggests having an “office buddy”, or a peer colleague, and making it a policy that you will introduce the people you know to him and vice versa. Knowing a senior colleague who knows everyone in the office is also a great asset.

Before heading to a party, check out the company’s website and memorise the names and faces of key people, Kaushal adds. That way, you can go up to somebody, greet them and ask relevant questions that allow people to open up.

“The reason that the boss goes to the party is that he wants to know you and also wants to see you interacting with your colleagues,” Kaushal says. “Make an effort to talk to your boss. At the minimum, greet them at the start of the evening and, when you leave, say goodbye and thank them for organising the party.”

Those who have a knack for sorting out the nitty-gritty can introduce themselves to the party organisers and offer help as a way to gain more exposure in the company, says an IT professional who is organising a Christmas party for his company this year.

“As a party organiser, you need to interact with people from different departments across all levels,” he says.

In doing so, the executive in charge will come to know the working styles of different teams and become aware of the dynamics among their members.

He adds that there is no room for shyness in office parties – be active, participate in games and do not look bored or uninterested. “This is a platform for you to build relationships,” he says.


Practical tips to help you get to know others

  • Be a good listener Avoid talking too much. Ask questions. After somebody speaks to you, pause for 5 seconds before responding so you can digest what was said. People appreciate that because they are not used to others listening to what they say.
  • Be a clever drinker Don’t go to a party with an empty stomach. Having a well-buttered slice of toast slows the flow of alcohol into your system. If you are in a hurry, eat a handful of unsalted nuts or anything with a high fat content.
  • Be social Don’t just stick with the people you know. Get to know someone from each department. The bigger your company, the more crucial it is for you to have a buddy in each department to help you with future problems.


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