How to survive the party game

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THE OFFICE Christmas party means more than free food and free booze - it offers the chance to let your hair down with your colleagues.

Lydia Ramsey, the author of Manners That Sell: Adding the Polish that Builds Profits, says they are getting it all wrong. "The Christmas party is a career development opportunity that allows you to showcase yourself in a social situation. Employers will watch you very closely and make an assessment of you." So before you put a black mark on your CV, take our tips on office party etiquette.

BUSINESS, NOT PLEASURE

The phrase "office party" is made up of two words and you should remember them both. Social intercourse with colleagues may be good for bonding and helpful to your career, but don’t throw away years of hard work by thinking you can rave it up as you would on a night out with your pals. "No matter how much fun you might be having bear in mind that this is a work event and you need to conduct yourself accordingly," says Ramsey. "Be careful of what you say and do because when the party is over these people will remember what you have done."

DRESS APPROPRIATELY

Forget that mantra of "tighter, shorter, better" on this occasion even if your leather mini has never failed you before. If you want to be listened to, and not ogled at in the office for the other 364 days of the year, flashing your cleavage and thighs is not the way to go. This is not the mental image you want your boss to have next time you are in his office asking for a pay rise.

AVOID THE ALCOHOL

Vomiting over the new department head’s Louis Vuitton tie is not the way to build a respectful working relationship. "Drinking too much is the most common mistake and the easiest way to do something you will regret," says Ramsey. "Limit your nightly intake to two or three drinks and alternate them with water." Think of it this way: if you can’t control yourself in front of colleagues whose respect you need, why should the managing director believe you will control yourself on that forthcoming sales trip to Bahrain, the team for which has yet to be picked? So stick to two glasses, maximum.

CIRCULATE

Don’t huddle with your pals - circulate. Seize this opportunity to put faces to names you know only from e-mail and phone calls. Not only is it polite to introduce yourself to others, this kind of networking can pay dividends in the workplace. This may be your one chance of the year to impress senior managers with face-to-face contact - so seize it. But don’t make a bee-line for the chief executive officer. Sarah Ivens, the author of A Modern Girl’s Guide to Etiquette, says: "No-one likes a fawning colleague - or employee. People can see through it a mile off. You should be charming to everyone - not just the big players."

DON’T TALK SHOP

Ramsey says it is worth researching who will be there, so that you can drop some well-prepared questions into the conversation. But don’t be the office bore and talk about nothing but work. Show what a fulfilling and exciting life you lead by talking about your hobbies, that adventure trip up the Amazon, the latest films you have seen. And don’t forget to ask others about theirs. As well as avoiding shop talk, steer clear of thorny topics: "Avoid the classics - salary, religion and politics," says Ivens. Sexual preferences and prejudices are also off the agenda tonight.

DON’T GOSSIP

Many careers have been ended with an off-the-cuff observation not intended for the subject’s ears - or those close to them. So even if that raucous woman with turquoise eye shadow is far too old to be wearing that pink mini-skirt, keep your opinions to yourself. "Don’t get dragged into office politics, or moan about another staff member - you just don’t know who is friends with whom," says Ivens. It’s no use complaining the next day that you had no idea the loudmouth was the MD’s wife when there was always the chance she’d be there.

ALL THE RIGHT MOVES

Body language is key at an office social occasion, which is fraught with potential for faux pas. "Never look over your shoulder to see if someone more interesting is walking in - that is the rudest thing to do," says Ivens. "Lean forward, smile and if you’re sitting, keep your knees pointed towards the person you’re talking to. Never fold your arms - this looks like you’re fed up."

Balance your glass in your left hand, leaving your right one free to shake people’s hands. Avoid being too touchy-feely, as you may send out the wrong signals. This also applies on the dance floor - no head-banging or doing Madonna Like a Virgin routines in front of your colleagues. Senior executives have amazingly long memories at times.

YOUR GUEST LIST

You might love your current partner dearly, but if they are the antithesis of everything your corporation stands for, think long and hard before taking them to the office Christmas bash. Your lover’s punk hairdo and nose-stud will help form your colleagues’ opinion of you, whether you like it or not. Shallow as it may sound, if he doesn’t match the image you want to project, find a tactful way to leave him at home - especially if it is not a serious relationship. "It’s sometimes advisable to keep your private life separate from work," states Ramsey. "Be aware that bringing along someone new will invite a whole host of questions that you might not be comfortable answering. When co-workers become too entwined in your personal affairs it can cause problems."

NO SEX PLEASE ...

Whether it’s the office junior or the senior share-holding partner, this is not the night to make a move on someone you fancy or who you think might enhance your career. And avoid the mistletoe at all costs. A little bit of flirting is permissible, however - after all, thousands of people marry people they work with. "Laugh at their jokes, play with your hair, and maintain eye contact," says Ivens.

AVOID THE PHOTOCOPIER

We don’t need to tell you why. It won’t be funny come Monday morning, even if your boss is laughing it off. Ivens says practical jokes have their place in the work environment, so long as you know where your superiors draw the line. "It depends on the tone of your office and the people you work with," she says. "However, the best approach if you like playing the joker is to stick with verbal jibes. Any remnants of a joke such as a picture or a photocopy can be used as hard evidence against you." At a dismissal hearing, that is.

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