How to survive an office party as an introvert

For those who enjoy being the life of a party, large work gatherings are a fun opportunity to hobnob and gossip. But for those of us who are introverts, the thought of having to attend an office party and engage in small talk with our coworkers is an exhausting performance.

But there are small steps you can take as an introvert to make your annual dose of enforced networking more enjoyable — without having to fake it.

Here’s how to make the most of an office party if large groups of people provoke your flight-or-fight response.

Bring a friend as support

If your office party allows you to invite a guest, bringing a supportive friend could be the confidence boost you need to summon the courage to talk to that big name you have admired from afar.

But before you decide which of your friends to bring to the company event, it’s important to vet them for cultural fit. You want to choose a friend who has good social skills, someone who can speak the language of your company and can survive being left alone by the bowl of punch.

To highlight the networking potential of plus ones, advice columnist Ronald Brown recounted the story of his client who brought a male friend to help her shine at a corporate party. This friend helped the client secure and strengthen connections she needed to get a promotion.

“He charmed some of my client’s colleague’s wives, dancing with them and deftly working in references to how much my client loved working at her company,” Brown wrote. “The following week, a couple of senior managers came up to my client and told her about the positive impressions their wives had gained of her as a result of her guest, which helped cement my client’s relationship with those managers.”

At their best, your plus-one can open doors that you couldn’t on your own. Choose yours wisely.

Give yourself small breaks to be alone

Introverts get their energy drained from being around large groups of people. As Susan Cain, the woman who popularized the reflective power of introverts in her TEDx talk, put it, “introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments.” 

A loud office party with lots of stimulus is not an introvert’s idea of a fun night on the town, in other words. Conserve your mental energies by enjoying solitude before the event, so you’re not exhausted before you arrive at the party. Recognize that you don’t need to force yourself to be in a loud environment the whole time to make the most of a work party.

Taking a few minutes to be alone could be the breather you need to survive an office event. Using timeouts to hide in a corner by the plants, or hole up in the bathroom, or pet your coworker’s dog to avoid small talk are not party fails — they’re a survival mechanism to help you for the long haul of a party.

Remember that you can listen more than talk

If you’re unsure of what to say to a colleague at an office party, recognize that you don’t need to remember elaborate social scripts to be a memorable conversationalist. As multiple studies have shown, our favorite topic to talk about is ourselves. So relax: You don’t need to be inherently interesting to be interesting to other people.

We find people who are interested in our lives to be the most interesting people of all. One study found that people who showed genuine curiosity, asked follow-up questions, and listened to their conversation partner were seen as more attractive to talk to in first-time meetings.

Have a gameplan of who you want to meet

Creating a socialization quota can help an introverted employee make the most of their limited energy. Instead of feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of talking to everybody in a room, do as Cain advises in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” and prioritize your commitments.

Pick the select few people you want to talk to at the office party to consider it a success. Then after you have talked to them and made your face seen, head home to your haven of solitude. No need to be a martyr and stay at a party to the bitter end.