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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Avoid holiday gaffes

By Linda White
Special to the Toronto Sun

In today's fast-paced society, when eating on the run and e-mailing birthday greetings is the norm, brushing up on etiquette may seem a little outdated. But when you're deciding what to wear to the office party and whether you should give your boss a gift, it can help you survive the holiday season.

Not only does understanding etiquette help you create the right impression, it also gives you the confidence to put your best foot forward at business functions, says Rebecca Chu, an etiquette consultant with Impeccable Image.

Deciding what to wear to your office party is a common dilemma, she says. The answer depends on when and where the party is being held. If it's at the office -- at lunch or right after work -- business attire is appropriate.

"You can add a little finesse to your outfit, such as a broach for women or a fun or funky tie for men," Chu says. "If it's an evening party that's out of the office, keep it classic but professional, nothing too sexy. When the day is over, you will leave an impression that people will remember until next year."
Best foot forward

Mastering the art of conversation can help you break the ice and get to know others, says Karen Brunger of the Image Institute. "You want to invite people to share a conversation without using interrogating techniques. You should ask a question and after you get a response, you can express a comment on how their answer interests or relates to you."

Don't talk shop, especially if spouses are invited. "Unless you already know something about them, talk about general things," Brunger says.
Express yourself

Some topics that should never be discussed: religion, politics, sex, money, marital status and whether someone is planning to have children. Even food preferences are taboo, because that can lead to ethical and religious issues.

Looking in the newspaper for conversation starters? "You don't want to talk about anything in the news that's negative," Brunger says. "You don't know if someone has a connection to a news items or has had a similar experience."

Word compliments carefully. "Saying something like, 'Wow, you look great!' could leave a person wondering what they looked like yesterday," Brunger says. "It's okay to give an authentic compliment, like telling someone you like their outfit, rather than complimenting the person."

Drinking too much is a definite no-no. Brunger recommends no more than two glasses of wine or just one cocktail at a business lunch. At an evening party where dinner is served, a cocktail before dinner, a glass of wine with your meal and an after-dinner drink is appropriate.

Avoid flirting. "These are people you have business relationships with," Brunger says.
Planning to invite clients or staff to a business lunch this holiday season? Etiquette consultant Karen Brunger of the Image Institute offers the following tips:
  • Ensure the location is convenient to your guests. Don't ask what restaurant they want to go to, but do ask what type of food they enjoy.
  • Arrive 15 minutes before your reservation so you're there before your guests. Arrange to pay the bill privately. If the bill does come to the table, never show cash.
  • Invite your guests to have a drink (though you don't need to order an alcoholic drink for yourself, even if your guests do).
  • Let your guests know it's okay to order appetizers by making some suggestions.
  • Let your guests order their meal first. When the meal arrives, pick up your serviette and utensils first.

  • Don't suck up

    Wondering if you should give a gift to the boss? "Buying a gift for the boss can come across as bribery, like you're trying to get on their good side," Brunger says. "However, it is perfectly okay for the boss or the company to give a gift to an employee."

    If you'd like to give a gift to the boss, consider giving something from a group of co-workers. Brunger lists the following as appropriate gifts: motivational books, chocolates and a basket filled with things like coffee and cookies. And remember, when someone thanks for you a gift, the correct response is, "You're welcome" -- not "No problem," says Brunger.

    Finally, our multicultural community celebrates a variety of holidays at this time of year. When in doubt, simply extend greetings for a happy holiday and new year.

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