9 ways to recover from (and avoid) holiday party embarrassment

We’ve all been there, the holiday party that goes straight to Hades. There’s food, there’s drink, (then some more drinks) there’s the slow loosening of inhibitions and then suddenly – Bam!!! Someone says the wrong thing to someone else and it’s slo-mo career suicide in front of everyone they’ve ever worked with.

So, now what? Is it time to look for a new job while everyone’s so hungover they forget to blacklist you forever? In a word, no. In most situations, you can probably save both your pride and your gig.

1. You’re not the only one

Believe it or not, this happens more often than you’d think; so even if you’ve puked in your co-worker’s spare pair of shoes, chances are good you’re neither the first nor last to do so.

2. Apologize. Then stop.

Carolyn Thompson, Managing Principal of the Merito Group, a talent acquisition and consulting firm said, “If you are the one that over-imbibes it’s up to you to apologize and inform those you may have affected that you’re quite sorry and that it won’t happen again.” And then just drop it.

“If you keep talking about it the situation can take on a life on its own and affect your professional reputation,” Thompson said.

3. Apology accepted

If you happen to be the one slighted or sloshed with red wine during the festivities, your best bet is to accept their apology and move on.

“It can be hard to take someone seriously in the office after you’ve witnessed that kind of behavior in a social setting,” Thompson said. “Politically savvy people wouldn’t call someone out on it afterwards, but would graciously accept an apology from that person if they said they were a tad tipsy and to excuse anything that they said or did during that time.”

4. Leave early

If you sense that the merriment is about to go awry, make your excuses and just leave. You don’t have to be sucked up into the drama either as a participant or witness.

5. Turn a blind eye

Not always, but if you happen to catch your married boss in a clinch with someone they shouldn’t be snogging, it’s fine to pretend you haven’t seen a thing. If, however, you’re worried they might try to get rid of you for possessing potentially awkward information, consult with your HR officer to let them know you saw something uncomfortable at the holiday party without naming names.

6. Learn from past mistakes

Whether you’re the one who goofed the last time around, or the one who was mightily insulted, remember that an open bar at a work event isn’t the place to slam dunk cocktails. “Keep to two alcoholic beverages and drink club soda or water in between them if you feel you need to carry a drink on your hand,” Thompson said. “Club soda with cranberry looks just like vodka soda with cranberry and the only one who knows the difference is you.”

7. Try to be supportive

If possible, try to help a colleague who’s screwed up in the past. Laura Handrick, an HR Analyst at Fitsmallbusiness.com, shared a story that happened some years ago when her best friend, a recovered alcoholic with 10 years sobriety, backslid.

During a holiday party that included bar hopping, Handrick’s friend started drinking and went from fun and silly, to loud and obnoxious – so much so that a security guard had to physically remove her from one of the venues.

Handrick said on the next work day her friend did the most gracious thing possible. “She apologized, individually to each one of us who had been there. She apologized for insulting a co-worker. She apologized for embarrassing us as a group. She apologized for every detail of the evening,” she said.

Since it was a party and not a work event, Handrick said, “There were no real repercussions from a work-standpoint, so her apology wasn’t meant to ‘get out of trouble’. … She owned up to her behavior, asked forgiveness of anyone she embarrassed and meant it. There was nothing more really to be done on her part.”

What’s most interesting though, is that Handrick and her colleagues all knew her friend’s struggle, “felt her remorse and promised ourselves and her to be better friends and co-workers by not making alcohol so available.” While it isn’t your responsibility to keep a work friend from making a fool of themselves, there’s nothing wrong with exercising compassion in trying to help them when possible. If anything, it shows your boss that you can be compassionate and take charge of complicated situations.

8. Be a planner/Don’t plan at all

If you hated the venue last year and felt that too many people had too much access to alcohol or dark alcoves, consider joining the planning committee and suggest neutral locations or lunchtime festivities. On the flipside, if you were heavily involved in the planning last year and got blamed when things went belly (or bottom!) up last year, feel free to skip the planning part and show up only to the event.

9. Have a strict no tagging rule and stick with it

In a world of selfies and social media, send out a request as rule with the invitation, informing guests that posting and tagging guests will be frowned upon. Use wording that makes it sound fun and friendly, so that everyone is free to enjoy — but delay posting. Upload a page of approved shots to a private social media page, so that everyone can share without oversharing. Or have a photo booth or photographer instead.