For as long as I’ve been covering the IT industry, I don’t recall meeting a single IT pro who was anxiously anticipating the annual office holiday party. But according to one leadership development expert who knows about these things, those occasions can be excellent opportunities not just to practice the career-enhancing art of conversation, but to connect with executives who may not know you even exist.
That expert is Susan Scott, founder and CEO of Fierce Inc., a leadership development and training company in Seattle, and author of the book, “Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time.” In an interview earlier this week, Scott acknowledged that engaging in a conversation at an office holiday party doesn’t come naturally to a lot of IT pros.
“The conversation we often have with IT professionals is trying to help them understand the importance and role of conversations in their lives,” Scott said. “I remember doing some work with a team at Microsoft years ago, and they were so funny. They said, ‘We don’t want to talk to people. We like to work in the dark.’ Well, if you still want to be programming in the dark 30 years from now, then there’s no need for you to have a conversation.”
According to Scott, whatever conversations we’re having with people who are important to our success shape the relationship we have with them. “During the holidays, here’s a marvelous opportunity to get some good work done in that area,” she said, “to really enrich a relationship, or start a relationship with somebody who doesn’t even know you exist.”
Scott said she’s a card-carrying introvert, so she can empathize with IT pros who think of themselves as introverts.
“But it’s not that hard to go up to a senior executive and say something like, ‘Thank you so much for hosting this party,’” she said. And then you can ask them a question, like ‘What do you hope never changes about our company’s culture?’”
Scott has encapsulated her advice in a list of what to do, and what not to do, at the office holiday party. Here’s what she said you should do:
- Get to know your executives. Office parties provide some of the greatest opportunities to make an impression on your boss, or even your boss’s boss. Take the time to approach executives, remind them of your role (if appropriate), and try to get to know them better. Keep the conversation casual, and brief. If you monopolize their time, any goodwill created in the conversation could diminish, and then some.
- Network. Beyond the leadership team, there are likely people from other areas within the company that you don’t yet know. Introduce yourself, and use the time to learn more about them and what they do (without dragging on about work). You never know when you may be looking for a change within the organization, and having a relationship established, even on some small level, can be beneficial if and when the time comes.
- Have fun! You go the office each and every day, and work hard. The office party is meant to celebrate that work. Take advantage of this, and try to enjoy yourself.
And here’s what she said you shouldn’t do:
- Don’t talk shop. No one wants to leave the office only to turn around and talk about work again. Sure, this can be hard, but try to focus on things outside of the decisions and tasks you address in meetings. Engage with your co-workers and learn more about what you may have in common outside of the office. It will make coming to work day in and day out that much sweeter.
- Don’t ask for a raise/promotion. It’s true the office party is a great chance to get in front of higher-level employees. This does not mean, however, that it is appropriate to bring up work-related requests with them. If this is on your mind, schedule time with them either before or after the party, and do the leg work. An off-the-cuff request at the wrong time would in most cases do more harm than good.
- Remember where you are. It’s true that most holiday parties involve alcohol. This does not give you an excuse to act any less professional than you do at the office. You may think no one will notice you flirting with the married partner or complaining about your office mate more candidly than you have in the past. Trust us, they will notice. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your boss to be aware of, because whether you like it or not, he or she most likely will be.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.