The Christmas party season is here again and you might be one of the lucky ones desperate to get there and let your hair down. But you may be one of the many bracing themselves for the trial ahead - as you prepare to pass through a festive night in Dante’s nine circles of stilted conversation and small talk.
Contrary to popular opinion, the work Christmas party isn’t just a chance for employers to placate you with free booze. It can be an opportunity to build stronger friendships with those you work with, and to connect with others that you might not see every day.
One in six people dread their work Christmas party, but you can actually enjoy the benefits of it for months and years to come.
Big relationships are built on small talk. So we've put together 6 steps to help you learn to chit chat with purpose and not only survive but thrive through the Christmas party season.
Step 1: Enter into the Christmas spirit
If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it with enthusiasm. While it can be entertaining to channel the Scrooge spirit - retreating to a corner and popping sarcastic comments with those in a similar frame of mind - there is far more to be gained from entering into the Christmas spirit.
Sometimes that just means lending a hand where you can. Or dressing the part. There’s a lot you can do without talking.
Step 2: Embrace a new mindset
Big relationships are built on small talk. Even for introverts! And after a while, avoiding small talk can become as exhausting as engaging in it. So you might as well embrace it, at least for one night of the year. Put away that phone. It’s time to connect with people IRL.
Sometimes you need to push through a little awkwardness to get to the good conversation. But the more you connect with people here, the better your conversations will subsequently be at work. You might even become friends. This can improve your general well-being and sense of belonging at work. But it can also open up opportunities to share ideas and collaborate on projects in an entirely new way.
Step 3: Listen and pay attention
You don’t need to be good at talking to connect with people at a Christmas party. It’s actually far better to be good at listening. Listening is a word we apply generally, but there are many different modes of listening - and it can be helpful to understand the nuances.
There is listening to find a hook, or a way in to a conversation - “The same thing happened to me, when…” - which can be useful, but this can actually leave you standing awkwardly on the periphery of a group conversation for some time.
Or there’s listening to solve problems - where your mind is whirring with potential solutions to your colleague’s domestic crisis. This probably won’t help forge healthy connections either.
And there’s listening to criticise. Which is fine if you’re the leader of a political party, attacking each other on ITV, but it’s not going to win you many friends at a Christmas do.
The above forms of listening all mean that your mind is actually elsewhere while you appear to be listening.
But the tool which forges the best conversations is active listening. This is about honing in on what a person is saying, being present in the moment, asking questions - even enjoying the opportunity to find out more about someone else. Listen for a hook you can relate to and go for it!
Step 4: Look beneath the surface
Small talk does not mean insubstantial, or without value. Sometimes people can reveal a lot about themselves in a throw away phrase. It’s easy to miss, but if you watch out for the moments when their eyes light up, or they use a word with a little more gravity than you might expect, they are subtly, probably unconsciously, giving you a key to discover something about them that is not on the surface.
You can ask about what they said, or reflect back to them using their own words. Such moments can become gateways to a person’s inner workings - and you can find out what really matters to them. The conversation may have started off small, but it can become something far more meaningful.
Step 5: Meet people where they’re at
Some people will want to loudly proclaim jokes to anyone who will listen, others may want quieter conversation with just a couple of people. If you’re aware of what they’re signalling, you can reflect that back to them - and meet them where they want to be met.
The main thing is to notice people. You don’t need to be the life and soul of the party. You just need to be friendly and spirited. It’s the kind of charisma that people will remember.
A note to bosses:
You are the noticer. And your team really want to be noticed. While you’re connecting with people in the moment, intentionally take time to recognise the qualities of the people working for you. Your acknowledgement will likely mean more than you realise, and could well mean more than even an end of year bonus would.
Detailed feedback is your friend here. Generalisations can wash over people, but if you can pull out a specific of what you liked about someone’s contribution, and highlight the impact of it, their morale can shoot skywards. This Christmas party is a kind of thank you to your staff anyway, so you may as well continue in the spirit of it.
Step 6: Remember, it’s normal to be nervous
You can’t remember someone’s name? Don’t panic. You have little in common outside work? You’re on common ground. Feeling the need to hide in the loo and scroll social media? It’s okay to feel that way, but you don’t need to stay in there all night.
After running communications workshops for 11 years, we can tell you: it’s normal to have concerns about social situations. Many of your colleagues will feel the same. The good news is that the skills you need can be learned! Just as driving was a complete mystery, now it’s something you can do without really thinking about it.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll even learn to like it.
More posts you might like:
- This Christmas cracker joke sums up how accents can be a challenge
- How to speak so that people want to listen - Emma analyses 3 of her favourite TED talks
- How to release the confident public speaker inside of you
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