Just Say No… to the Office Christmas Party

It’s that’s time of year again. Lights and trees are going up everywhere. The quest for the perfect gift has begun. Cards will start arriving soon – and so will the invitations to the office holiday party.

Let me start off my saying that the term “office party” is a textbook oxymoron. Merriam-Websters.com defines oxymoron as “a combination of contradictory or incongruous words (as cruel kindness); broadly :  something (as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements.” This is just perfect. The office Christmas party  really is a well-intentioned gesture gone awry – at least for most people who self-identify as introverts. You know who you are – we’ve met in the bathroom at an office event, or casually hiding behind a large plant or curtain.

And it truly is a marriage of unequal parts. When I think of going into the office, or, more accurately, dragging my ass into work in the morning, I definitely don’t feel like I’m on my way to a party. And I don’t even like parties. Still, parties are in the eye of the beholder. And I can once recall an acquaintance dubbing a particularly good sandwich a party in their mouth. Put succinctly – parties are personal, and the office is in a whole other category.

Companies like to schedule light-hearted social events throughout the year to bring people together. Tedious team-building activities have become much more common, and are painful in their own right. But the office Christmas party is a lengthier form of forced socialization with one’s coworkers. It leaves the door open for many more awkward interactions – especially because it is one of the few work-related events of the year that involves alcohol.

Don’t get me wrong – I can completely understand why one might be tempted to indulge when faced with hours of unstructured small talk. But I’ve seen these events end very badly on more than one occasion. One of the rare Christmas parties I attended in recent years culminated in an exceptionally short, intoxicated coworker, being driven home in a child’s car seat. Cell phone photos were taken and shared. True story. It was not good.#coworkerincarseat #youcan’tmakethisup

We have all experienced a version of a holiday social catastrophe. Don’t let yourself be a victim or a statistic! Just say no to the office holiday party this year!, Or, Christmas party smart with the helpful tips I’ve provided below.

How Can I Skip the Christmas Party?
If you’ve made it this far in my post, you are probably a like-minded soul, and wondering how you, too, can gracefully avoid the office holiday function.

As a seasoned Christmas party dodger, I routinely scheduled my Christmas vacation around this dreaded social for several years in a row. Some companies make a really big deal out of these events, and it’s best to come up with a really good excuse for opting out. You aren’t being dishonest if you really aren’t available.

Other valid excuses may include having family in from out of town. No one has to know that you invited your family to visit – you can completely throw them under the bus. This is perfectly acceptable and legitimate. Or you could always accidentally purchase tickets to Disney on Ice or another holiday show the same night. But keep in mind that you can probably only get away with this excuse once, so use it sparingly.

If it’s truly an optional function, it may be okay to “just say no.” You can check with other coworkers to judge the importance of the event if you are unsure.

How Can I Survive the Office Christmas Party?
For some, completely avoiding the event may not be an option. I feel your pain. I’ve been there. So I’m going to provide some really fun diversionary tactics that you can use at the annual holiday party or throughout the year at any office social.

  1. Keep Cell Phone in Hand: The mobile phone is God’s gift to the introvert. There are so many ways it can be used to avoid awkward, forced conversation. You can pretend to read a text or email, or even excuse yourself to take or make a call. If you get stuck with someone and can’t think of anything else to say, share boring photos of your kids or dog. You will lose them in no time.
  2. Limit Face Time: Another tried and true tactic is arriving late and leaving early. If planned strategically, you may be able to shave up to an hour or two from your total party time. In many cases, it’s only important to be seen at an event. So be sure to make eye contact or have a brief conversation with a few key people. And then reward yourself with an early dismissal. #savedbythebell
  3. Bring a Camera: This may be tricky at an office party, but I’ve used it at a number of other occasions, like weddings. Having a big honking camera in front of your face makes it really difficult for others to strike up a conversation. And you can also make a contribution to the event by capturing a special moment. Having a specific purpose at an event can take the pressure off of socializing with people you don’t know very well.
  4. Bring a Friend: If you aren’t permitted to bring a date or a friend, you can drag another equally screwed coworker along with you. You can spend the evening bonding over what you wish you were doing instead;  take up chain smoking, just for the night, and/or hide or kill time outside or in the lobby. Technically speaking, you are still there.
  5. Sit in the Back: This hearkens back to the school days when the really enthusiastic students sat up front because they didn’t want to miss anything. The same holds true as adults. Chances are you will find other coworkers who are watching the clock and hoping to blend into the background.
  6. Safe Topics: Brainstorm a few harmless topics that you could work into a conversation if it’s going south or awkwardly waning.
  7. Have a Safe Word: If things start getting really crazy (see carseat story above), you may want to have a word that lets a friend or date know you need to get out right away. My husband Brad and I use “lederhosen.” But you might pick want to go with something a little more creative or seasonal like “snowballs.” If it’s really bad, “balls” may be more appropriate.

I hope this helps! Good luck with your party dodging techniques!