How to Survive Office Staff Parties When You're an Introvert

Updated on January 12, 2018
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Sally Hayes is a business communications coach who teaches speaking and leadership skills to adults in the midst of a career change.

From Christmas celebrations to retirement parties to team building retreats, when you work in an office with other employees, eventually you'll be expected to attend one of any number of different staff gatherings. But what do you do if you're an introvert and you don't like to make small talk? These tips on how to control your nerves and handle yourself with poise can help get you through even the most cringe-inducing, awkward staff parties and social situations.

Think of your annual company summer barbecue or Christmas party as just another part of your job. While some people in your office, including your own boss, might tell you that attendance is optional, it really isn't. Showing up and engaging with your co-workers, no matter how much you hate them, is part of being a team player. Unless you have a family emergency or have been on doctor-sanctioned sick leave, plan on attending the office party. Even if you don't get a chance to talk to everyone, at the very least, make sure that you have time to greet your boss and thank him of her for hosting the staff party.

Start with realistic expectations about the staff party. As much as introverts prefer to have long, in-depth conversations over trivial small talk, the nature of a the office staff party doesn't really facilitate that level of engagement. Other well-intentioned people may try jump in on your conversation, the person you are speaking with may get called away to meet with a client or help with party planning task. If your goal is to try to handle a work-related matter at the office party, think again. Interactions at staff parties and networking events tend to be brief. Save the one-on-one conversations about in-depth issues for another place and time, where you can both be

Eat lightly and drink in moderation (if you must drink at all) at the office staff party. One of the reasons that introverts tend to shy away from big social events is that they find them exhausting. Introverts use downtime to recharge their energy levels while extroverts get their energy from being around other people. That's why, if you're an introvert, it's important to eat foods that are light and refreshing during the event rather than foods that are heavy and alcoholic drinks which can make you feel sleepy.

Try to avoid overindulging.

Piling too much food on your plate at the buffet and drinking too much alcohol can affect your energy and engagement levels. Feeling too full and a bit tipsy to boot is a bad combination when you're anxious about being sociable.
Piling too much food on your plate at the buffet and drinking too much alcohol can affect your energy and engagement levels. Feeling too full and a bit tipsy to boot is a bad combination when you're anxious about being sociable.

Plan ahead. If you're nervous about a party because you're afraid you'll forget someone's name or you'll run out of things to say or someone will ask you a question you don't want to answer, then take control of your fears by doing a little bit of leg work ahead of time. Brush up on your co-workers spouse's names if you are afraid forgetting someone. Prepare a few interesting conversations starters that are not work-related ahead of time and review them a few times before the event starts. Remember that the best conversations starters are questions rather than statements. Although you may be shy, believe it or not there are a lot of people out there who love to talk (and talk and talk) about themselves or share their opinion with you. The more you gently steer the conversation towards the other person, the less you have to worry about talking about yourself.

Don't play with your phone just to avoid talking to people at your staff party.

When you're trying to avoid small talk, it's tempting to make yourself look busy by fiddling with your mobile device. Unless you are expecting an urgent call, put your phone on vibrate and leave it in your pocket.
When you're trying to avoid small talk, it's tempting to make yourself look busy by fiddling with your mobile device. Unless you are expecting an urgent call, put your phone on vibrate and leave it in your pocket.

Dress for the occasion but make sure you choose clothes that are comfortable too. Dressing well and fitting in with the crowd will make you feel less self-conscious. Wearing clothes that fit you properly is important. If you are constantly having to adjust your belt, pull up a sloppy sleeve or yank your skirt down because it keeps riding up, you'll be too focused on yourself and you won't be able to relax during the event. If it's a stand-up, cocktail party, be sure to wear shoes that are both stylish and comfortable. Nothing makes an awkward conversation even more excruciating than blisters and toe cramps.

Don't want to be grilled with questions? Then go find yourself something useful to do at the party!

Standing in as the barbecue chef will let you meet a lot of people as they go through the food line, but the good news is that you won't have to talk to any one person for too long.
Standing in as the barbecue chef will let you meet a lot of people as they go through the food line, but the good news is that you won't have to talk to any one person for too long.

Offer to help out at the event. Events take a lot of effort and planning. The person in charge of organizing the party will need people who can focus on the details without getting carried away in a deep conversation with someone. By signing up for a task, you'll still get to meet lots of people but you can always pull yourself away from an awkward situation by insisting that you must excuse yourself to go check on something.

Find groups of people made up of an uneven number. Trying to join a conversation between two people can be weird and awkward sometimes. especially if you try to step into the middle of a deeply personal talk. People talking in a group rather than one to one are likely to be having a less intimate conversation. The structure is a bit more casual. No one person is responsible for carrying the whole conversation and you won't get the same kind of awkward pauses that can happen when two people run out of things to say to one another.

© 2018 Sally Hayes

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