Dear New Shrink,

With the holidays nearing, my office is planning its annual Christmas party. This is my first year with the company and I have already heard stories of things that have happened at past parties and have been surprised by the drunken behaviors of my unassuming colleagues. I very rarely go out with my coworkers and wondered if you had any do’s or don’ts to help me enjoy the open-bar party without feeling pressured to go to extremes.

Thanks for your help,

Party Goer

Dear Party Goer,

I’m impressed that you are thinking about this ahead of time. Walking into the annual holiday party with a game plan will certainly help you to have a good time with your colleagues without creating embarrassing moments. While this is intended to be a time for you to be yourself and unwind, doing so within reasonable professional limits will help to ensure you maintain the professional image you have built over the last year.

First off it is really important that you do attend your holiday work party. While it may feel stressful to navigate the potential of party mishaps, making an appearance will help confirm that you are committed to the company and interested in creating relationships with your colleagues. Be sure to re-read your invitation for details on dress, gift-giving and guests so you go into the party prepared and ready to go. When in doubt, inquire about any specific details on dress and dates before the big night.

While having access to an open bar can seem like a good deal for your pocketbook, pace yourself and pay careful attention to the number of drinks you consume. We all know the classic story of the friendly coworker who has too much to drink at the holiday party and ends up making decisions that he or she might not make during a normal day at the office. While a holiday party is presented as an opportunity to celebrate with colleagues, keep in mind that you will need to see these people again on Monday morning.

As evidenced by the conversations already going on in the office, people do remember what happens. Although some may be willing to chalk it up to a one-time event, consider whether you are willing to risk your professional reputation for the sake of a few drinks. Since you are thinking about this ahead of time my guess is that you do care about the reputation you have with your colleagues and want to ensure this event does not compromise your status with them.

OK, so enough with the warnings. What can you do to have a good time but not “too” good of a time? If you are going to drink, start out easy; find a drink that you are likely to enjoy for awhile rather than shots or drinks that you are tempted to drink quickly. Consider the alcohol content per volume, a beer or glass of wine provides the same amount of alcohol as a shot but can be enjoyed over a longer period of time. You mention that you don’t want to feel pressured to go to extremes. If this pressure is coming from coworkers who are pushing you to drink, you might want to consider less obvious ways to take a break from the booze. Consider substituting in sparkling water with lime or soda between drinks. You’ll reduce your alcohol intake without informing others that you’re not partaking in the festive cocktails. Balancing your intake will help to ensure that you are in control of your behaviors during the entire party. The same holds true for the buffet. You can always continue eating and drinking at home, so avoid making a scene by overindulging.

The holiday party may present an opportunity for you to talk with others who you don’t normally interact with. Engaging in personal conversations will help you to get to know your colleagues better and can provide for a great networking opportunity. However, be mindful of the content of your conversations; even though this may seem like a casual opportunity to relax with your coworkers you should not use this as a time to vent about your employer.

The bottom line is that you should enjoy yourself; in this economy a holiday party may be the only gift you receive from your employer. After the celebration, be sure to thank the person who planned the party. Showing your appreciation will help build powerful professional alliances within your company. I hope this helps to ensure that you have a good time without becoming part of the office headlines!

Katrina Davy is a professional career counselor who holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia universities. Got something on your mind? Send your questions to newshrink@gmail.com or check us out online at www.newshrink.com. All questions will be kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!