Magazine article USA TODAY

Party On-But with a Purpose: "For Many People, the Holiday Office Party Can Bring with It More Anxiety and Dread Than Good Cheer, and There Really Is No Need for That."

Magazine article USA TODAY

Party On-But with a Purpose: "For Many People, the Holiday Office Party Can Bring with It More Anxiety and Dread Than Good Cheer, and There Really Is No Need for That."

Article excerpt

IT IS THAT VERY SPECIAL time of year when many Americans are receiving invitations to their annual office holiday party. If you are one of them, you probably will look forward to the event with great excitement--until you start to recall the blunders of years past. There was the time you ran out of things to say to your CEO and awkwardly asked if his divorce was finalized, or the time a drunk coworker got a little too close for comfort when you both were standing under the mistletoe--or even worse....

Yes, while office holiday parties can be hit or miss, many people find their past experiences more often fall in the "miss" category. Of course, it does not have to be that way. With the right approach, your office holiday party can provide a great opportunity to build relationships and strengthen your position at your company.

At the office holiday party, new relationships can be formed, but they also can be ruined before they even have a chance to blossom. Old relationships can be nourished and celebrated, or they can be compromised and endangered. You can leave feeling great--or like a lonely loser.

The first step to avoid being the lonely loser is not drinking too much. Alcohol makes your inhibitions and common sense come tumbling down, and it vastly increases the chance that you will say or do something that is at best silly or at worst truly regrettable. Second, do not worry about being smart or clever. Go prepared to ask thoughtful questions--lots of them. The way to endear yourself to colleagues--and to get noticed by senior management--is not to talk more about yourself and your plans but, rather, to ask engaging and inspiring questions.

The most underutilized strategy for building relationships--getting to know others more deeply--and exercising influence is asking power questions, which get to the heart of the issue. They help you engage with others more deeply and uncover people's passions, as well as give individuals new perspectives on their challenges. Power questions, at the most basic level, enable you to get to know others more deeply and ensure that you are talking about meaningful issues.

When you use power questions, you really can make your office holiday party--or any party you attend--count. You do not have to dread the event and then head straight for the bar for some liquid courage when you arrive. If you think about power questions beforehand, you can go in feeling confident and prepared--and you will come away having used that time to your advantage. You will have engaged your leaders and coworkers, as well as strengthened valuable relationships.

Questions about work. Do not gossip about coworkers and what has been happening at the office. Instead, ask thought-provoking questions about how your colleagues feel about and experience their work: What was your best--and worst--day at work during this past year? What was the most fulfilling experience you had this year? What do you think is the best part of working here? What is the most challenging part of your job? How did you get your start? (This is an especially good question to ask your boss or a senior leader in your organization. It is a simple but effective way to draw someone out.)

Questions about goals and challenges. If the foundation of relationships is trust, the engine that moves them forward is helping others reach their goals and confront their most challenging issues. …

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