The holiday season brings lots of chances to get together with coworkers in both casual and more business-geared settings. The holiday work party is sometimes a confusing mix of both, and it’s worth giving some thought to the best way to approach it.

Holiday parties can seem like a time when you can let go a little and have fun with your coworkers, especially if some are friends you see outside of work hours. But your coworkers aren’t the only people celebrating at the holiday party – your supervisors (and often managers above them) are frequently there as well.

So while you should relax, mingle, and have fun there are a couple of things to keep in check.

1Don’t Overindulge

It has been said many times, but can be said again—the holiday party is not the time to have too many drinks. Not only can you say or do something embarrassing, but you are doing that in front of people who might consider you for a promotion. If you come unhinged at the holiday party, they might remember that and question your overall judgment.

2. Show Your Best Self

Just as you don’t want to be remembered for the spectacle you made after having a few too many, you also don’t want to shock people with inappropriate comments, political opinions, or gossipy stories. If your coworkers turn to you for the latest dirty joke when you all go out to dinner, keep it there and not at the holiday party.

3. Do Mingle

Make sure you do catch up with people, but it doesn’t have to be all about work. Now isn’t the time to hit someone up for a job offer or to regal them with facts and figures from your latest reports. Don’t spend the night talking shop, but do spend the night making a genuine effort. If you know a colleague helped a patient figure out how to cope with a demanding medication schedule successfully, by all means pass a compliment on to them. And don’t neglect to greet your boss.

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4. Don’t Skip the Party

Even if you really dread holiday parties, you don’t get a free pass to skip. Part of building relationships and being a team player means having to attend at least for a while. Don’t make it obvious that you want to leave (for instance, make sure you at least take your coat off!), but stay just long enough to chat with a few people, eat some of the food, and have people know you were there. Then you can make a graceful exit.

5. Plan Ahead

If office parties are especially tough for you, spend an hour the night before planning who you would be comfortable chatting with (but you can’t just pair up with your favorite buddy). Also memorize a few questions to break the ice and keep conversations from stalling. People love to talk about themselves, so you can ask what they have planned for the holidays or what they like to do in January. Keep the topics neutral and broad.

Office parties can be a trial, but they can also present great opportunities for you to reinforce your professionalism and get to know the people in your work setting. Take advantage of the opportunity and enjoy this unique part of the holiday season.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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