This is part 2 of a two-part series about office Christmas parties. Part 1 provided guidelines for keeping yourself own on track at office Christmas parties. This post will discuss what to do if your coworkers get out of hand.
You might be on your best behaviour at your office Christmas party, but that doesn’t mean your coworkers will be doing the same. Uncomfortable situations could still arise if your colleagues become unruly, or even if they’re bringing up topics not well-suited to a work party. What’s the best way to get through office parties unscathed, even if your coworkers are getting out of hand?
Office Party Survival Guidelines - Part 2: Dealing with Unruly Coworkers
1. Respect Your Own Boundaries
Everyone’s boundaries are different. You might not mind crass jokes that are distressing to others, but feel the need for more personal space than some of your colleagues. (For more on boundaries, see the post “What Are Boundaries?”) Common boundary issues at office parties include colleagues bringing up topics you don’t feel comfortable discussing (for example, comparing pay cheques, or speaking badly about a fellow coworker), or making advances on you or getting too close physically after a few too many drinks.
If you’re feeling uncomfortable at the office party, pay attention to those feelings; they could be a signal that something in the situation isn’t okay for you, and that your boundaries are being crossed. If that’s the case, you’re likely to feel much better after the party if you do something to improve the situation. That may take the form of using the tips below (steering the conversation, or using your assertiveness skills), or it could be as simple as moving away from someone who’s crossing your boundaries and talking to someone else.
2. Steer the Conversation
Are your colleagues talking about something you’d rather not discuss? Or are they bringing up work related topics? (As mentioned in part 1, it’s natural to want to chat about work, but those conversations about work can be problematic at office parties). Steering the conversation can help preserve your personal and professional relationships and significantly reduce post-party stress.
Redirecting the conversation can be as easy as bringing up a new topic. If the discussion is veering toward work topics best not tackled at the party, you may it helpful to say something like, “We’re at a party! I’d rather not think about work tonight – let’s leave that for the office” and raise another subject.
Sometimes your colleagues may be raising issues that warrant further discussion and they won’t want to drop the subject so easily. If that is the case, you may want to say something such as, “This seems like an important concern. I’d like to give it the attention it deserves. Perhaps we could make a time to sit down and talk about this properly when we’re back at work”. If all else fails, you may be able to steer the conversation by moving yourself physically to a new conversation and mingling with a different crowd.
3. Use Your Assertiveness Skills
If your boundaries are being crossed, you can use assertiveness skills to firmly express what is and isn’t acceptable for you, while opening a respectful dialogue. Assertiveness skills give you the best opportunity to make sure everyone in the situation gets their needs met while keeping relationships intact. If you’re feeling uncomfortable and respond passively (not saying anything or changing the situation), you’re likely to walk away feeling violated, hurt, angry, or otherwise distressed.
One of the keys of assertiveness is using “I” statements to express what you observe about the situation (the facts of what’s happening), how you’re feeling in response, what you need, and what you’d ideally like from the other person. An assertive attitude involves respecting your own needs, while also seeking to work collaboratively with the other person to get their needs met, too.
Making an assertive statement could sound something like, “I notice that you are standing quite close to me and have touched my arm several times as we’ve been talking. I’m feeling uncomfortable, as I like to have more personal space. Could you please take a step back?”. (For more on assertiveness, check out the post “How Assertive Are You?”)
4. Clear the Air
If your office Christmas party didn’t go smoothly, take some time to reflect on the problem situation that occurred. Is the issue something you’ll soon forget about, or will there be lingering awkwardness or discomfort between you and your colleagues? If whatever happened at the party is going to lead to later difficulties in your work or your collegial relationships, it may help to name the “elephant in the room”. Clear the air by opening a discussion with the people involved. The conversation is likely to go more smoothly if you enter with an attitude of wanting to repair the relationship with your coworker and reduce tension rather than shaming or blaming them for bad behaviour. It may help to make it clear that your goal is not to embarrass or attack your colleague, but to create a more positive and respectful work environment. Remember to have some compassion for your coworker’s missteps. If the situation is not resolved and you still feel uncomfortable after trying to clear the air, you may want to bring the issue to the attention of someone in HR to help resolve the conflict.