How to be An Office Party 'Other'
Posted November 12, 2007 2:02 p.m. EST
Updated November 13, 2007 1:58 a.m. EST
It can be hard enough to survive your own office holiday party, let alone somebody else's. But as a supportive significant other, you can't very gracefully decline an invitation to be your partner's date for an event that could reflect - for better or worse - on your date's success.
"You smile until your face starts to hurt," says Barbra Feldman, the wife of New York attorney David Feldman. You could call her a professional corporate spouse, having accompanied her husband to more than 20 years of holiday office parties.
The Feldmans are getting the hang of it, now that David, 47, has his own firm and can design company parties specifically to avoid the pitfalls and discomfort he and his wife, 42, encountered earlier in his career. At Feldman Weinstein & Smith LLP, employees go bowling without significant others and meet up with the dates later in the evening, relieving some pressure all around.
But not all spouses and partners have it so easy.
As corporate festivities gear up this winter, here are some tips from experts on how to tackle some of the more common obstacles you might face when it's not your party, and you can't cry if you want to:
KNOW YOUR PLACE
You are an "ambassador" for your significant other when you go to a party as the date, says international corporate image advisor Gloria Starr. With your partner's reputation at risk, it's vital that you don't say the wrong thing or act the wrong way.
Remember that you are in second place, Starr says. "You're not trying outshine someone, but you do want to put on some lively energy that is positive."
WATCH THE BOOZE
It's common to hide behind alcohol when you're nervous or not having a good time, which is more likely when you're at somebody else's bash. But all the experts agree: Do not over-drink.
"Alcohol loosens tongues and lessens inhibitions," says Donna Gerson, author of the upcoming book "Modern Rules of Business Etiquette."
"You don't want to be remembered as the person who became a sloppy drunk at the holiday party, because everyone remembers that," Gerson says.
You don't have to go into your significant other's winter shindig blindly. Know the players, the dress code and your table manners ahead of time, says Dana May Casperson, author of the book "Power Etiquette: What You Don't Know Can Kill Your Career."
"Having some dialogue before you enter the party is really helpful," Casperson says.
A pre-party conversation with the person who's taking you can also be helpful, she says, for discussing how you want to be referred to ("fiance," "friend," "partner," "husband"), and for making a game plan about sticking together or separating at the event.
DEAL WITH SHOPTALK
When workers get together away from the office, they might still end up talking about the subject that unites them: work. As an office party date, that can get tiresome.
"Being bored is just part of the part," Casperson says. "If the employees are going talk shoptalk, smile."
But you can also arm yourself with subjects that will initiate fresh discourse.
"Play it safe with safe topics," advises celebrity party planner David Tutera, host of the new Lifetime show "Get Married."
"The four that you want to avoid at all costs are discussions pertaining to religion, politics, sexuality and money," Gerson says. "Just don't go there."
BE A GOOD SPORT
Finally, experts say, being the office party "other" doesn't have to be a negative experience.
"To a large degree, people have this really bad mindset about it," says Barbara Pachter, author of "New Rules (at) Work: 79 Etiquette Tips, Tools, and Techniques to Get Ahead and Stay Ahead."
"If you change your mindset, everything else is much easier," Pachter says.
Learning about your significant other's workplace and colleagues can help the bond between the two of you at home, she says.
"Be gracious in your supporting role," says Gerson. "Who knows. You might even have an enjoyable evening."
It is a party, after all. How bad can it be?