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The office holiday party: dreaded for some, but joyous for many.

Everyone has a story about a colleague who had a little too much one year and did that thing to that guy. And despite being a happy occasion, anxiety can be part of the festive season, and it doesn’t necessarily stop for a few libations with your cubicle mates.

Given that there’s always an ass at every work party, we thought we’d speak with etiquette expert Karen Cleveland to find out the definite do’s and don’ts that make for a foolproof festive affair. Be the best office party you with these 8 tips for turning things around this year:

Set a drink maximum

Karen keeps things short and sweet, advising party-goers who are getting their drink on with one quick note: “Don’t let that person be you.” The best-case scenario for keeping yourself in check is to set a limit. You know yourself best, so pick a drink maximum that you can stick to without getting fuzzy. You’ll thank yourself for it later. And don’t fret, there’s plenty of cheer and merry throughout the holiday season, so you can pull back for this one to-do. To be clear: you’re going to want no lampshades on your head, and you’ll want to keep your shirt on.

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Step it up

It’s the holidays, so our impulse can be to go full-on with jewels, sequins, red, white and green. Karen’s rule of thumb is simple: step it up. “Upgrade to something a bit nicer. No need to add anything formally ‘festive’ if you’re not feeling it, but do make an effort to be more pulled together than your average work day,” she says of committing to a look.

Quick tip: when in doubt, check in with a colleague to see what she’s wearing. The cheese stands alone, but you shouldn’t.

Do it yourself

The holidays can be expensive, but they don’t have to be. You want to show your cubicle buddies you care, but you just can’t afford it, so what do you do? Karen tells it to us straight: “A thoughtful, hand-written card goes an awful long way.”

Quick tip: if you’re crafty and creative, make your card extra-special by designing it yourself. But if ‘art’ means macaroni, glitter and glue, you’re going to want to go with store-bought.

The plus one

Should you bring a date? It doesn’t say it anywhere on your invite, but it should be okay, right? Not according to Karen, who states, “Only bring a guest if the invitation says so, and if in doubt, ask to be sure. It’s presumptuous otherwise.” If you’ve only just started dating the person you want to bring as your escort, it’s probably not a good idea. Save intimate one-on-one dates for getting to know someone before you throw them into the deep end.

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Hooking up

We didn’t need an etiquette expert for this one. Hooking up at the office during a party is definitely not a good idea. Logistically, where do you go? And how are you going to explain that when someone walks in? Best to keep it professional.

Learn to lie

Holiday parties have the tendency to spill over into an after-party, even if it is a weeknight. Karen has a solution where you can participate in the festivities without the dreaded hangover. “Here’s a tip: excuse yourself to use the washroom and discretely ask your bartender to serve your vodka martini without vodka,” she says. “Your colleagues will pick up what you’re putting down, and you’ll get a refreshing glass of water that looks like a proper drink.”

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Talk now, text later

If you’re new to a job, chances are it’s a little difficult to squeeze your way into a circle of friends. To make things a little easier, Karen recommends brushing up on the art of small talk. “Reading the headlines that day and brushing up on major world events allows you to keep pace with small talk and sound relatively well-informed,” she says. “It’s also an absolute truth that people love talking about themselves, so ask questions to fuel good banter. And most importantly, keep your phone away. Nothing kills a social setting more.”

Take your lumps

Baby did a bad bad thing? Well, we warned you not to get too saucy. If you’ve said or done something you probably shouldn’t have, own up to it. Karen says, “The cowardly way out is to hope that it blows over, or to send an e-mail with a fumbling apology. Do the opposite: do the bravest, most nerve-wracking thing and walk over in person and apologize for your behaviour.”

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