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Save Face in 8 Awkward Holiday Situations


December 19, 2014 | Categories:

The holidays are all about socializing as much as possible with your friends, family, colleagues, and your significant other. To help you prevent making mistakes (or know what to do if you’re in the midst of a disaster), I talked to Susan RoAne, keynote speaker and best-selling author of How To Work a Room: Silver Anniversary Edition. Here, she shares tips on common awkward situations you may come across this season—like getting rid of gabber at a holiday party, how to recover if you were “that guy” at the company party last night, what to do if someone bought you a gift and you didn’t get them one, and more.

  1. You feel a little social anxiety before holiday parties.

If you occasionally feel “shy” in social gatherings, you’re not alone—researchers say near 50 percent of Americans identify as being shy. Before you attend any party, read the paper and brush up on what’s going on in your town, the country, and the world. Then, practice how you’re going to introduce yourself. “Tailor your introduction to every event to give others context of who you are, why you’re there, and what they could talk to you about,” says RoAnne. If someone asks you a question, give a short answer, then stop talking about yourself and say, “What about you?” Roane advises against asking, “What do you do for a living?” since people may don’t enjoy their jobs or want to talk about them. When you say “What about you?” it allows them to talk about what they’re interested in, which could be that they’re training for a triathalon or volunteering with a local sports team. Then, when someone talks about themselves, listen, advises RoAne. Don’t start daydreaming or thinking about what you’re doing for tomorrow’s workout.  Other fallback questions include, “Where are you originally from?” or “Where did you go to school?” Hopefully the questions lead into stories, laughter, and good conversation from there.

2. A stage-five clinger won’t leave your side at a party.

You want to schmooze and socialize at a company event but the new colleague you just met latched himself to your side and won’t let you work the room on your own. To exit the conversation, try one of RoAne’s How to Work a Room tactics. Try interrupting yourself while talking. In the middle of a sentence, put your hand out—because that handshake also signals that the conversation is over—and say, “It was great talking to you about [whatever you were conversing about].” This  shows you were listening to them. If you want their card, say, “Do you have a card?” or “May I offer you one of mine?”  Give people an easy way of getting in touch with you afterwards if you’re interested in connecting after the event.  Then, walk away from that person to another group or a person standing alone by walking laterally or straight ahead. Never turn your back on the person, advises RoAne. Another exit strategy is to smile and say, “I’m so enjoying talking to you that I could completely monopolize your time, but I know that you want to meet other people, and that they’ll want to meet you.”  While that line might not work for everyone, it’s a great way to let the other person know you’re there for mingling and not for the monopolizing.

3. You show up empty-handed to a party.

Whether you received a late invite or completely blanked on the etiquette of bringing something, don’t worry fret or call attention to it. “If you walk in without a host gift, don’t mention that you didn’t bring one,” says RoAne. After the event,  make a donation in their name to a local food bank, including the donation card in the thank you note. “This is something you can do any time of year that will make your host feel so much better than the tchotchke you would have brought because you’re helping feed some people who haven’t been able to get some food,” says RoAne.

Whenever you go to a party, make sure you don’t bring the host a gift they have to do work for and attend to, like having to assemble food or finding a vase for flowers, suggests RoAne. Bring them something for the host for later, like fancy preserves in a gift box, or a box of chocolates they can enjoy themselves or choose to share with the guests.

Even though it may be considered an old-fashioned move, sending a “thank you” note in the mail after you’ve been invited to a party will be memorable, says RoAne.  But if that doesn’t work for you, at least send a thank you email within two days of the party.


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