The company holiday party is right around the corner, and if it’s like previous years it will be a festival of faux-pas, awkwardness, and other embarrassments. It’s the one party of the year that we can’t wait to end.

Here are five suggestions to help you successfully navigate this year’s office holiday party:

Master the graceful exit. Extract yourself from awkward or embarrassing conversations. You can tactfully break contact in most cases by excusing yourself to the food line, to the restroom, or by stating that you need to say hello to someone (your boss is often a good excuse).

Invest five minutes in recalling names. No one likes to draw a blank on a name he should have known. The best way to increase the odds of remembering a name is to put it at the front of your mind before the interaction. Just before the party starts, take five minutes to recall the names of people you expect to see. It’s a simple but powerful way to decrease the number of times you blank on a name you should have known.

Partner up. A good partner can get you out of all kinds of jams, including help with recalling names. Agree in advance with your spouse or with a coworker to automatically introduce himself whenever you hesitate for a moment upon encountering someone you should, but don’t, recall. This will trigger a reciprocal introduction and, crucially, will produce the name you can’t recall. Your holiday partner can also provide the excuses you need to tactfully exit an undesirable conversation. Your spouse (or party partner) can suggest that you head to the food or drink line, or ask you to introduce him or her to your boss.

Don’t disguise stalking as networking. The company’s head honchos often get hounded by people currying favor at the holiday party, but that’s no way to boost your career. If a natural conversation with a higher-up emerges, that’s great. But don’t stand in line to talk to someone you barely know. The honcho would almost certainly prefer to be left alone. Greet your boss and, perhaps, your boss’s boss. After that, relax and be open to any other conversations that may come your way. Stop trying to grow your network at the holiday, and concentrate on protecting your current work relationships from awkward or embarrassing interactions instead (see tip #1 above and tip #5 immediately below).

Embargo the eggnog. Nothing reduces embarrassing office party incidents as effectively as steering clear of booze and the people who’ve had a bit too much of it. One of the main reasons for verbal (and other) blunders at holiday parties is that alcohol lowers our inhibitions, which erodes both our conversational restraint and our self-monitoring ability. Loose lips cause many verbal slips.

Question: What strategies do you use to avoid trouble at the office holiday party? Please leave a comment below to continue the discussion. For additional tips on effective communication at the holidays and beyond, gift your fellow partygoers a copy of Stop Talking, Start Communicating.

Originally posted on