TIME advice

7 Holiday Office Party Sins You Didn’t Even Know You Were Committing (and How to Fix Them)

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Holding your drink in your right hand

It’s December, which means it is officially holiday office party time. For some people, this is a joyous time of relaxing with coworkers, eating good food, and adding a little extra sparkle to their outfits. But for others, the office holiday party is one big cesspool of awkward moments and screw ups that could potentially damage your career. We don’t want to scare you, but the office holiday party is not your run of a mill party. It’s intricate and full of politics–in addition to delicious crab cakes.

Now if you’ve been on the Internet in the last week, there are tons of articles stating the obvious advice i.e. don’t get wasted, wear a completely see-through dress, just eat cheese all night at the food table (it’s not good for you!), but we know you’re too smart for that. So we’ve come up with a list of more subtle mistakes you can make–with the help of Jacqueline Whitmore, an internationally-recognized etiquette expert–for some hacks.

1. Criticizing another coworker in front of a coworker or manager.

Commenting on someone’s dancing skills or choice of outfit may seem like just a little fun for you, but someone else could interpret it differently. Every office has a Dwight Schrute, but you don’t need to point it out. Even if the person is doing something totally stupid and absurd, keep your mouth shut. It makes you look like a bitter and angry person. You want everyone to think you’re super nice–kind of like Blaire Waldorf.

Easy fix: Follow your mom’s advice: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. And if someone is really bothering you, then go get another drink.

2. Giving a gag gift.

You may think a funny gift is hilarious, but not everyone shares your (possibly very dirty) sense of humor.

Easy fix: Play it safe and get a very PC gift, like a candle or a pair of socks.

3. Exiting early or staying too late.

You don’t pull an Irish exit at the office holiday party and you don’t leave after 10 minutes. This is your job people! Spend some time there, a little small talk won’t kill you. But you also don’t want to stay too late. When the crowds start leaving, you can head out.

Easy fix: Stay for at least two hours and then have a solid excuse, like you have an early morning spin class or something. Whitmore says, “When you make an effort to attend the office holiday party, even for just a half hour, you show interest in and support for your colleagues, organization, and supervisor. ”

(MORE: Your Guide to Dressing for the Holiday Office Party)

4. Only talking to the people you talk to every single day.

We get it. You’re BFFs with your coworker, but this is the time to mingle with other people in the company. Yes, it would be easy to just stick with your friends, but they most likely won’t lead to your next job.

Easy fix: Talk to at least two people you wouldn’t normally talk to at work. You never know what it could do for you on both a personal and professional basis. Whitmore says, “Reach out and introduce yourself to people you don’t know rather than sticking with only those you do know. An office party is a chance to shine and mingle with those you don’t see very often. Have some conversation starters available. Most people love to talk about travel, food, and hobbies.”

5. Not being totally present.

Yes, you can go for the whole party from start to finish, but are you actually being present? Be in the moment when you are there. Whitmore says, “A holiday party is a great time to get to know others on a personal level. Be engaged and don’t spend a majority of the evening texting, talking on your cell phone, or posting photos on Facebook. Put people first and put your phone on silent.”

Easy fix: Leave your phone in your coat pocket then you’ll be forced to talk to people.

6. Holding your drink in your right hand.

This is a rookie move. You may be right handed, but you have to keep that drink in your left hand (or whichever is your dominant hand), so you can keep the other strong hand free for some good handshakes. Whitmore says, “No one likes to shake a cold, wet hand. Avoid juggling your food and drink, and don’t talk with your mouth full of food.”

Easy fix: Whitmore suggests leaving your big bag that could comfortably hold a small litter of cats at home. It will just get in the way (and your coworkers most likely won’t rob you). Opt for a wristlet or a small cross body bag if you insist on having a purse.

7. Not showing your appreciation.

So it’s not like you received an actual present, but if you want to get some brownie points then be sure to thank whoever was responsible for the party. Not every company has a holiday party, so it is pretty nice if you get to attend one. Whitmore says, “Saying thank you is not only cordial behavior, but it’ll make you stand out from those who don’t express their gratitude.”

Easy fix: If you want some major extra credit, then send a thank-you note to key persons who helped organize the event and to those who made the event possible.

(MORE: How to Use the Holidays to Advance Your Career)

This article originally appeared on Levo.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

4 Health Excuses To Stay Sober At Your Holiday Party

After the Party
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It's not always easy to explain why you're turning down a drink, finds a new study

Staying sober at a holiday party—whether it’s out of commitment to the 12 steps, your health or your tastebuds—certainly has its merits. But it’s not always easy to explain why you’re turning down a hot toddy, finds a new study in the Journal of Applied Communication Research.

Consider that 65% of adults who work full-time say they regularly drink alcohol, and drinking after work is an ingrained part of many companies’ culture. That after-hours socializing may come with other benefits, too. One study found that among full-time employees, men who drink alcohol earn 19% more than those who don’t, and women who drink make 23% more. Another found that drinking after work with colleagues eased job dissatisfaction.

To find out how non-drinkers handle boozy events, researchers from North Carolina State University interviewed full-time workers who don’t drink alcohol. After analyzing their responses, the authors report that most non-drinkers feel like an outsider and felt like by not drinking, it was their job to put drinkers at ease. Some even said that felt they actually had to be better at their jobs in order to make up for the social points they lost for abstaining. Many said they accepted drinks they never touched, just to save face. “I’ve held a beer bottle for hours, to the point where it’s warm,” said one man who works in sales.

About 40% of nondrinkers abstained for reasons associated with health or not liking the taste, and 38% did so because they were recovering alcoholics. But almost all of them, when asked by coworkers why they weren’t drinking, tended to cite their own health.

No one should have to explain why they don’t drink, but until that day comes, here are five health-related excuses, all from the study participants, to forgo that next drink.

1. “Not drinking is my secret to weight loss.”

Ken, a 41-year-old man, has to woo big donors for his job at a university. “Sometimes they’re really fired up about getting drunk at a football game or something,” he said. In order to not alienate them, Ken told donors he sheds pounds by not drinking. “I don’t want the first thing that somebody thinks of about me to be that I don’t drink,” he said.

2. “It’s that pesky toe fungus again.”

Most recovering alcoholics surveyed gave a health reason for abstaining—in order to skirt stigma. Marshall, a 41-year-old engineer, wanted a legitimate medical excuse that wouldn’t threaten his reputation, so he blamed his toe fungus medication, which is contraindicated with booze—even though the drug had expired and he’d stopped using it.

3. “Sorry, I’ve got a marathon.”

People respect long-term goals and physical challenges, so 43-year-old Donna, a professor, said she didn’t drink because it got in the way of her marathon training. “That goes over really easily,” she said.

4. “Ugh, migraines.”

Instead of revealing that she took anti-anxiety medication and didn’t want to drink alcohol, website designer Maddie, 31, said she took migraine medication. “I’ve spread that lie all over town,” she said.

MONEY Networking

Work the (Office Party) Room

If you're going to the company holiday festivities only for the food and drink, you're squandering a unique networking opportunity.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a friend at the top of the corporate ladder? Mark your calendar for the office holiday party, your annual chance at cocktail chatter with company brass.

“Take advantage of being in the same room as your CEO or division director,” says Miriam Salpeter, co-author of 100 Conversations for Career Success. Making nice with key executives can help you gain visibility you can leverage later for new projects or even promotions. Use these tricks to make no-stress small talk with the big shots.

Study your prey. Make a list of three execs you’d like to meet, focusing on those with influence to help you ascend. Research each one’s background online.

“Look for commonalities you can use as conversation starters,” says Salpeter. (Maybe you both attended a Big East college, for example.) Ply co-workers for more information. (Does the veep follow basketball?)

Make a calculated approach. The best way in: Ask your supervisor for an introduction. This establishes instant credibility, says Hallie Crawford, a career coach in Atlanta.

Boss not game? Approaching the target one-on-one is ideal but may not be possible. To join a group conversation, “simply ask if you can increase the size of the circle,” says Terri Griffith, a management professor at Santa Clara University. Introduce yourself by making what Diane Windingland, author of Small Talk Big Results, calls a “role pitch”: Sum up in a sentence what you’ve done for the company of late. So rather than “I’m a sales director,” add on “I developed the campaign for our new product line.”

Steer the conversation. Remember, this isn’t a meeting, but a party. “It’s about building relationships, not about making transactions,” says Ivan Misner, chairman of business networking organization BNI. So quickly shift away from shop talk; personal conversation makes for a more memorable connection.

Use your research to formulate an open-ended question like, “Do you think Marquette has a shot this year against Georgetown?”

Exit gracefully. Keep the conversation brief so you don’t monopolize the person’s time. Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, recommends signaling that the chat is almost over. For example, “I must get another of these canapés, but before I do, I’d love to know which NCAA player you think is the one to watch this year.”

In January — when everyone’s back to business — follow up with an email recapping the meeting and offering a big idea or help on future projects. Says Windingland: “Never miss a chance to solidify a relationship with a decision-maker.”

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