You Misbehaved at Your Holiday Office Party: What to Do Next

The holiday office party is an event which can produce all sorts of results. The office group gets to mingle, and management stops "managing" and starts socializing. That's where the problems start.

The Mechanics of Office Parties

The social dynamics of office parties are a study in themselves. Any group of people represents a collection of behaviors, values, perceptions and social instincts. The holiday office party, which is a group based on people who are in close contact on a regular basis, changes the social environment from formal to informal.

That doesn't necessarily suit some people. Many people prefer to keep their working relationships on a single track. They rarely communicate with the others outside the office. Their instincts, outside this comfort zone, are defensive. They're a lot more sensitive in an office party environment.

Managers in this environment are special cases. Some managers aren't too sure how to socialize with their staff, because they normally don't. They, too, are in a defensive mode. It's also common for managers who aren't socially at their ease in the party environment to become negative-minded about anything they consider out of line.

Misbehavior Issues

If you misbehave at an office party, the misbehavior will fall into one of several categories:

Perceived misbehavior: The commonest cause of problems, and, ironically, usually the most trivial of cases of actual misbehavior. You did something which was essentially a matter of opinion, whether it was actual misbehavior. The perception of misbehavior is the issue, and depending on who's decided it was misbehavior, the problems evolve.

Clumsy misbehavior: Unintentionally, you did misbehave. This type of misbehavior is usually innocent, but it can upset people seriously. The major problem here isn't necessarily the incident, but the damage to relationships, and you're in the wrong, even if you meant no harm.

Real misbehavior: You crossed a line, knowingly, either as a joke or for some other reason, and genuinely offended someone, even if you didn't intend any injury to anyone. Somebody's sensitivities have been affected to the point where they're seriously offended or angry, and honest complaints about your behavior have been made.

Dealing with the Problems

These situations are based on other people's perspectives regarding your behavior. While you may feel they're overreacting, bear in mind that when you complain about someone, you do so on the same basis. Don't be instantly judgmental of cases where you may not even understand how you gave offense, or why.

Damage control has to address some real issues, and you need to do things properly, in a logical order:

  1. Relationships: Patching up after an incident needs to be done honestly, and with due regard to the feelings of the other people. Acknowledge that you hurt their feelings, or upset them, and apologize sincerely. Make sure you don't do anything in the future which you think might upset these people.
  2. Management: Management may or may not think your misbehavior was a major issue, but does have to address any complaints. Explain to management that you didn't even know you were upsetting people, and have apologized to those concerned. If the complaint is from management, apologize, explain that you didn't intend to create the issues and apologize directly to the manager concerned.