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Oh No! The Office Holiday Party is a Seated Dinner!

Q: What's harder than knowing how to shine at the Christmas office party?
A: Knowing how to shine when it's a seated dinner.

The open-format Christmas office party is a piece of cake compared to a seated lunch or dinner. At a buffet-type function you can move around, which means you can disappear when you want to. You donít want to get caught hiding out in the ladiesí room all night, but since youíre free to move around, you can leave any person or group when you want, and even leave the room.

However, at the seated affair you are trapped. If it strikes fear in your heart, you arenít alone. Even for a pro, this isnít easy. Here are some tips:

IT ISNíT A PARTY

Never forget this. It may superficially appear different (new place, new people), but remember everything you say can and will be used against you.

Youíll be seeing these people Monday morning. If you think itís hard to face a one-night stand after creeping out of her house in the middle of the night, wait till you have to face your boss Monday morning after getting sloppy drunk Saturday night and spilling your guts about some personal problem you canít handle. I mean how will (s)he expect you to be a competent Marketing Director when you were crying because your cat had died? I know the two things have nothing to do with one another, but your boss doesn't.

Think of the word "mortifying." No one needs to know about your hysterectomy, how well Viagra works for you, that your young wife left you, that you think the new manager stinks, or anything else about your personal life.

You simply are not free to say anything you want to.

FOLLOW THE LEADER

Once seated, you must watch the leader to know what to do. It can be the boss, or his or her spouse, whichever one is dominant. Watch what theyíre doing. Emily Post may say not to eat asparagus with your fingers, but if your boss' wife is, you really need to think about it. In most cases, I'd go ahead and do it along with her. If you donít, youíre making a statement. It's that important what your boss and his or her partner do. Donít start to eat until they do. If they donít order dessert, you donít. Monkey see, monkey do.

CONVERSATION

General conversation while youíre being seated will devolve into one conversation dominated by the boss at least for a while, often for the entire meal. Your job is to pay attention. If the boss, sometimes aided and abetted by a crony or colleague, starts in on a monologue, be an attentive audience. Look horrified if something bad happened, laugh if he tells a joke, maintain eye contact, be respectful. It can amount to a performance. Itís almost always dominated by males.

FOOLS RUSH IN

There may be lulls in this monologue from the boss. Don't attempt to fill them if you're an amateur. Nowhere does the expression "fools rush in where angels fear to tread" apply more fully.

You don't know this side of your boss. You don't know her sense of humor, what annoys her, what her prejudices are, her religion, or any number of important things that you can step right into if you feel compelled to fill air time. Even the most innocent comment can get you in trouble because it's a very magnified situation - one person talking at a
time to the whole table. What you say will echo and reverberate, all the way to your next performance appraisal.

ETIQUETTE

Timing matters. No choice here. Arrive 15 minutes early and donít leave before everyone leaves.

Donít be the first to complain about anything. No matter how it appears to you, the company (boss) is putting on the affair, and criticisms will be taken personally. Donít send the meat back; donít complain about how hard the chairs are. Youíre a guest; be appreciative. Save face.

If the boss does complain about something, agree, but be milder about it. Never upstage. If he thinks the salmon is "atrocious," don't say, "I thought it was heavenly," or talk
about a time when you got instantly ill with food poisoning over salmon one time. If he's got a big personality, he'll probably announce the salmon won't do and tell the waiter to take back everyone's. If it's more minor than that, say something like, "Yes, I think youíre right, but isnít the risotto delicious?Ē

Conversation is the focus. Comments should never be made about what someone else is eating or isnít (ďWhatís wrong Marcia? Donít you like the XX?Ē) or doing. If someone knocks over their water glass, help them out surreptitiously, but keep the conversation going as if nothing had happened.

CROSS TALK

If the boss starts a conversation with the person on her side, you may do the same, but be prepared to cease if the boss takes the stage again.

Many people find this practice obnoxious, but the boss is ďthe presence,Ē and itís their job to hold court. Itís work and itís expected. Save any personal issues you may have about this for another time.

FISH BOWL

All of us know intuitively that the person who isnít nice to the waiter isnít a nice person at all. You are being watched.

BLEND

Match behaviors. Sedate, or rowdy, attempt to get with the spirit of the thing. Whatever personal idiosyncrasies you may have about food or spirits, keep it to yourself. No one wants to know that you're on a diet, lactose intolerant, in recovery, allergic to chocolate, or a vegan. Order or eat from what's available, without comment.

METALLIC?

What to wear? Office festive, which means a muted Christmas pin, scarf or tie, but donít be shouting ďChristmas.Ē Stay within the normal range for attire at your office adding only a 'nod' to the holidays. If you don't know the difference between "professional dress up" and "party attire," you're going to flunk. This is not a time for skins, latex, cleavage, a lot of hairy chest exposed, a jingle bell bracelet, or anything remotely approaching a "costume."

You may feel like Mrs. Santa or the Christmas Elf that night, but Monday morning you're going to be HR Director or Senior Accountant, and how can they respect you when they were staring at your exposed breasts across the table?

DONíT ENJOY YOURSELF

Sorry, itís one of the most stressful things you can go through. You are trapped for an hour or more of scrutiny, you have to think every moment, and you mustíve relax.

If you're new to this, observe others to know what to do, imitate the person you think is most savvy, and resist all urges to stand out in any way. There's nothing wrong with sitting there, smiling, and saying a little when spoken to. Observe with the intent of learning. Notice what goes over well and what doesn't, and make mental notes for the next time.

About the Author

©Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach, http://www.susandunn.cc . Offering coaching, Internet courses and ebooks for your personal and professional development. Visit the best ebook library on the Internet - www.webstrategies.cc/ebooklibrary.html . Mailto:sdunn@susandunn.cc for free EQ ezine.

Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach