It’s almost time for the annual holiday office party, so brush up your networking skills now.  To make the most of the event, remember:

  • Give before you get.  This is the No. 1 rule of networking.  When you meet someone new, think of how you can extend yourself to help that person achieve his or her objectives.  Somehow, when you give to others, it always seems to come back your way, maybe not from the person you helped but from someone in his or her network. Research backs up this phenomenon. According to one study, rising stars tend to reach out to others before they have a need, and when they do connect, they listen, probe others’ needs and often give information, resources or contacts without expecting any immediate return. 
  • Go beyond your comfort zone.  Resist the temptation to spend the party chatting with people you already know well.  A holiday party gives you the chance to interact face to face with people you otherwise wouldn’t see, so make a point of spending time with people across the organization, including decision makers as well as employees at all levels.  Research shows that top performers make bridging ties across hierarchical levels as well as across functional and organizational lines, so be sure to network up, down and sideways.
  • Listen.  Of course you need to introduce yourself in a way that projects confidence and articulates what you do, but then focus on the other person, staying away from controversial topics.  Your goal is to start building long-term relationships, not to recite your resume.
  • Maintain decorum.  No matter how festive, a company event remains a business function.  Laugh, have fun, even hit the dance floor, but keep some limits.  No twerking.  No sexual innuendo. No posting embarrassing photos. Unfortunately, a lot of career slip-ups happen at holiday parties: a poll from a few years ago found that 40% of us have seen or suffered a major indiscretion at a work-sponsored holiday event.  If you do mess up, apologize.  Then get back to work.
  • Say thank you.  Thank the people who work with you.  Thank the people who help you.  Thank the people who planned the party.  You’ll also set yourself apart: one survey found that people are less likely to express gratitude at work than anyplace else.  Saying thank you could even help your business results: one study suggested that a simple thank you could increase employee effort by as much as 50 percent.

Most important: show up.  A holiday party is no time to hide in your cube.  Meet new people, make a good impression, give of yourself, and you’ll take one more step toward advancing your career.  Who knows?  You may even have fun.

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