December 3, 2010
Navigate holiday work functions like a pro with these etiquette tips
Special to NWjobs
The odds of an etiquette lapse at work pick up in December. Mix work pals, end-of-the-year parties and possibly alcohol, and you may end up with a volatile cocktail of things you wish you hadn’t said or done.
“People get nervous, so they go straight to the bar or buffet, get stuck there and feel afraid to move away,” says Arden Clise, a business-etiquette consultant at Clise Etiquette.
“You can get into trouble so easily,” she says, as a result of one drink too many (Clise suggests a limit of two). But with the right etiquette, holiday parties and work-related meals can be great way to make a good impression and expand your professional network.
“The holiday season is one of the best times of year to network, and do it in a relaxed way,” says Sandy Jones-Kaminski, author of “I’m at a Networking Event -- Now What???” Holiday mixers offer opportunities for putting names to faces and better understanding the personalities around you. Here are some tips for maximizing your mingling mojo.
Set yourself straight
According to Arden Clise, the most common etiquette blunder is not knowing the placement for the bread plate, glass or napkin and using the wrong one.
“This then causes problems for the rest of the table, particularly at a table with eight to 10 place settings,” Clise says. “It messes everyone else up unless they also use the wrong plate, napkin or glass.”
Making a “b” with your left hand (encircling thumb and first finger) and a “d” with your right hand reminds you that your bread plate is to the left and your drink is to the right.
The napkin is typically to the left of your plate, but if it’s in a glass, it will be in the glass to your right.
Don’t try to juggle a beverage, snacks and conversation. Carry your drink in your left hand, leaving the right free for shaking. When it’s time to eat, step out of circulation. Above all, stay professional. “It’s still a work function,” Clise says.
Sit-down meals at restaurants can be a little more tricky. For one thing, who pays?
If you’re out with co-workers who are a group of friends, expect to split the bill, Clise says. If the event is hosted -- for example, by the boss -- the host typically selects the restaurant, makes the arrangements and foots the bill.
Take social cues from the host; ask him or her to suggest menu items, which indicates the preferred spending level. “If the host really wanted you go all out, they’d say, ‘The filet mignon is amazing,’ ” Clise says.
Questions about proper use of your napkin (put it on your lap as soon as you sit down), how to eat spaghetti (just a few strands twirled around a fork) and where to put your utensils after use (on a plate, not on the table) often come up in the etiquette workshops Clise teaches.
A shortcut: Copy whomever you’re with, and stay focused on polite, positive talk.
Take small bites to help you chew quickly and avoid having a mouthful of food when you talk. “That’s especially embarrassing when in an interview situation or when conducting a business meal,” Clise says.
Silence your cellphone during any business gathering. Never check your text or e-mail messages, she says; “it’s like you just walked away from the conversation.”
Seattle Pacific University student Julia Behrends has taken dining-etiquette workshops on campus twice from etiquette expert Mary Mitchell. Behrends gains tips each time, such as the proper way to eat soup (bring the spoon up to your mouth instead of bending down to the bowl).
Behrends says one point she learned at Mitchell’s most recent lecture exemplifies what etiquette comes down to.
“Business dining is all about the relationship,” Behrends says. “It’s about the people you’re speaking with. In a business-dining situation, be confident, because the conversation is key.”
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