12/07/2014 10:49 EST | Updated 02/06/2015 05:59 EST

Three No-Nos For Your Holiday Business Party

Oppenheim Bernhard via Getty Images

Last week I went to a seasonal party. I arrived solo and seemed to immediately catch the attention of a man who I did not know. Within minutes, I was being told how sexy and exotic I looked, and not to leave without telling him. Now what gal doesn't like a bit of positive attention? But before I continue, why don't I let you guess where this all took place. A bar? A single's club? A neighbourhood gathering?

Nope -- a business function.

I could have disclosed I am happily married (but really, I shouldn't have to use that as an excuse), or set him straight (but that's hardly my job). I did politely take my leave before too long but the interaction made me sad -- and I'm a gal who can hold my own in most settings, isn't shocked by much and can find humour in the darkest situations.

Honestly, was it too much to hope my networking skills and attractive professional appearance would result in business connections rather than uncomfortable ones? With all the recent talk about the need to gain consent in sexual encounters, shouldn't we all be a little more prudent about how we gauge consent to talk in a sexual manner too, especially at a holiday business party?

I don't want to pick on guys during this festive season. Not all women act like the angels on top of the Christmas tree either. I'm all for flirting and having fun at a business event. But there is a difference between playful flirting that builds rapport and predatory flirting that crosses the line of professional conduct.

What is the etiquette for holiday business parties? Here are three suggestions I'd like to offer:

Don't act too familiar too quickly. Having an established relationship built up over an extended period of time is important for knowing what degree of familiarity is welcomed rather than creepy (and won't run the risk of de-valuing the other person). An opening line based on someone's looks rather than, say, their business interests, specialization or accomplishments seems like a misplaced focus. Just like any other meaningful connection, business relationships are based on mutual interest and chemistry. So let's not forget the need for some ramp-up time before letting our hair down.

Be careful about over-sharing. Business relationships are built on mutual interests, which entails sharing bits and pieces about our personal lives. Those personal details can matter, as they define the essence of our character. But there is a need to respect boundaries too. Sharing information that will make us vulnerable later -- or asking for information that suggests ulterior motives -- should be curtailed. We can't take inappropriate banter back with "just kidding." Whatever comes out of our mouths will be filed away by the other person when evaluating our professional gravitas. Even if it was just the wine talking, that's not an excuse.

Don't focus on one person for too long. The optics of spending too much time with one person to the exclusion of others can be problematic. Frequent touching, whispering, or penetrating glances -- even if welcomed by your conversational partner -- can give others the wrong impression. Who wants to become the focus of malicious gossip? Ask yourself, how your interactions may look from someone else's vantage point. Plus, seasonal business parties are for networking -- so get out there and mingle!

'Tis the season. Let's all have some fun while keeping in mind that our professional reputations are as fragile as those beautiful ornaments on the Christmas tree. Shattering them would not be a great end to 2014.


  • Wearing Short, Tight, Revealing Clothes (Or Going Naked)
    Wearing Short, Tight, Revealing Clothes (Or Going Naked)
    This should be an obvious one. Never wear anything shorter, tighter, or lower than standard office wear. Remember, this is still a work event.
  • Bringing Up Work Topics All The Time
    Bringing Up Work Topics All The Time
    Yes, you work together at an office, but this doesn't mean you have to talk about work all the time. The office party is a place to be social and interact with colleagues (and high-rolling managers) you may not speak with on a regular basis. You can introduce yourself and talk about what you do at work, but feel free to chat about other topics like sports, movies or something in the news.
  • On Your Phone
    On Your Phone
    Are you bored? Constantly texting, tweeting or Instagramming has become so ingrained in our behaviour that it's almost acceptable. But when you're doing this in front of your co-workers and bosses, it can be insulting. And besides, even if you aren't bored, you look incredibly bored.
  • Monopolize Conversation With One Person
    Monopolize Conversation With One Person
    Often, when we're shy, awkward or nervous at parties we attach ourselves to friends or people we know — don't do this at your holiday office party. Office parties are a great way to meet your co-workers, and who knows? It can even lead to a promotion down the road.
  • Complain About The Food Or Entertainment
    Complain About The Food Or Entertainment
    This one is a no-brainer. Just remember, someone spent time ordering food, pulling together entertainment and putting in an effort with decorations. Don't be an office-party snob — management didn't have to throw a holiday party.
  • Flirt With Co-Workers
    Flirt With Co-Workers
    We're all here to be friends (well, most of us), but don't cross the line. The last thing you want to be remembered for was schmoozing with co-workers highly intoxicated.
  • Book Another Party On The Same Night
    Book Another Party On The Same Night
    It's called a calender, people. Chances are, your holiday office party wasn't booked last minute. Cancelling on your co-workers (or leaving halfway through) makes you seem disinterested, which can leave the impression you don't care quite as much about your job.
  • Forget To Thank Planners Or Committee
    Forget To Thank Planners Or Committee
    It's an easy one to forget. Again, remember someone worked hard to put this party together. Shooting them a quick thank you email or saying thanks in person goes a long way.
  • Gossiping
    Psst ... can you keep a secret? Save the water cooler chat for another time — like outside of the office.
  • Call In Sick The Next Day
    Call In Sick The Next Day
    Get it together. Don't get so drunk at your office party that you can't function the next day. You won't be fooling anyone.