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Partner up smartly. You can eliminate the dreaded party introduction—and a number of other awkward incidents—by establishing a few conversational moves with your spouse or with a partner before the holiday party.

“Develop a plan with your spouse or with the coworker you’re attending the party with to automatically introduce themselves whenever you hesitate for a moment upon encountering someone new,” advises Tumlin. “This will trigger a reciprocal introduction and, crucially, will produce the name you can’t recall. Once you have the name, you can always follow up with an apology for not introducing the other person if you like. For example, you might say, ‘I’m sorry, Jim, I should have introduced you two,’ or, ‘My apologies, I thought you knew each other.’

“A good partner can also get you out of all kinds of company party jams,” he adds. “Your spouse or your party partner can be the person who asks for both of you to be excused from an awkward or a dwindling conversation by suggesting that you head to the food or drink line, or by asking for you to introduce him or her to your boss,” says Tumlin. “Use a partner at the holiday party to give you the reasonable external excuses you need to tactfully get out of conversations, and let your partner help you move along if you’ve lingered too long in one discussion.”

Don’t disguise stalking as networking. It’s a good idea to offer holiday greetings to your colleagues, your direct reports, and your boss, but don’t seek out all of the head honchos and try to give them yuletide greetings at the company party.

“The most senior people often get hounded by people currying favor at the holiday party,” says Tumlin. “If a natural conversation emerges with someone from Star Fleet Command, that’s great. But don’t stand in line to talk to someone you barely know. She’s probably trying to enjoy the party and 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.

“Scale back your expectations about the company holiday party,” he adds. “Worry less about who you need to meet and what you need to say. Focus more on minimizing awkward conversations and enjoying as much of the gathering as you possibly can.”

“The office holiday party shouldn’t be something we dread,” says Tumlin. “This year, lay off the juice, master the exit, review a few names, partner up smartly, and think about the party as a celebration and not as a Santa-themed networking event. With a little bit of luck, this year’s company holiday party will be unremarkable, and might even be enjoyable.”

You can learn more about Geoffrey Tumlin at www.tumlin.com.

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