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TCU Magazine "Academe"
Articles:  Miss Clark goes to Washington | A debt to societies

The life of the party

When it comes to the office party, do you know how to avoid the social hangover?

By Carmen Goldthwaite

You've checked and double-checked yourself in the mirror. But you're still nervous.

It's the annual "Holiday Office Party." Is it a party? Or is it work?

"Both," said Gay Wakefield '74 (MS '75), director of TCU's 12-year-old Center for Professional Communication, the first center of its kind in the nation.

"Even though it's a party, people are still making judgments about you. People say and do things that reflect on their decision-making ability and indicate how they might act with a client in a similar setting," said Wakefield, an organizational communication expert who returned to TCU in 1997 after her only daughter elected to attend TCU.

Yet, while office parties can create misery, Wakefield shows undergraduate and graduate students (and Neeley alumni) that knowledge and practice of protocol and manners smooth away any fear of holiday business hangovers. Instruction in this "nonverbal communication" filters through seminars and workshops in the Center.

In its "high-tech" quarters, students can enroll in a communication diagnostics and certification program designed by Wakefield and unavailable elsewhere. Workshops cover a landscape of business situations, including "NETiquette and other Communication Minefields," "Building Cultural Bridges" and "Danger Zone: (Mis) Perceptions."

"We slip manners and etiquette in the backdoor at our workshops. After all, we communicate by how we handle ourselves; manners communicate," Wakefield said. "Sometimes without employees knowing it, holiday functions are viewed by management as an opportunity to see how people will react in a more relaxed situation. Particularly if that's the case and you don't know it, the higher-ups generally aren't doing much drinking but are doing a whole lot of watching and listening."

The biz school's communication hub stems from M. J. Neeley's vision and endowment. And when it comes to good communication, Wakefield quotes Neeley's long-standing thought:

"People have to know how to communicate from the heart -- with their employees and their customers -- to succeed." Wakefield adds that if people are aware of what they communicate "non-verbally" with manners -- and practice listening, presentation and leadership tactics -- then they are free to "communicate from the heart."

"Etiquette is part of the game, like it or not," she said. "So while what you may be doing at a particular gathering is not all that egregious, it's not all that professional, either. And people don't forget about it when they come to work on Monday."

Holiday office party survival guides

DO listen to others' wagging tongues, but don't let yours start wagging in return.

DON'T talk shop ... change the subject ... people are there for a good time.

DO practice manners until they become habitual. Then your attention can focus on people and conversations.

DON'T partake if liquor is being served; get a Sprite, drop a cherry in it.

DO network -- get to know individuals on another level, their interests.

DON'T go empty-headed. Bone up for chit-chat, know what's going on in local sports, entertainment and culture.

DO get a mentor to let you know what is expected. Protocol differs among companies, regions and countries.

DON'T wait for others to take the lead. Play host and make those around you comfortable; help others look good.