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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

More on Holiday Parties

Dear Sue: I'm invited to a "Holiday Drop-In" party this year. It is at the home of one of the top executive's in our company. I've never met his wife and have only met him briefly. Should I bring a gift for him or his wife? I am not sure if it is necessary, but if I do, should I bring wine, flowers, or something else?

– Dropping in

Sue Says: It is always a kind gesture to bring something to your host when you are invited into a home, and if you would like to bring something, I am sure it will be appreciated. However, under the circumstances, it isn’t absolutely necessary. Would you consider bringing a gift if the same event were at the office or some other neutral location? I assume you feel as though you need to bring a gift because it is in the home of one of the executives, however, I am assuming that this executive is not expecting gifts from everyone who has been invited. A “drop in” initiation is not the same as if you were invited to an intimate dinner party, in which bringing a gift would be the right thing to do.

If you choose to bring a gift, don’t feel as though you need to spend a lot of money on it, and don’t bring wine unless you know that this executive and his wife will enjoy it. A box of candy or nuts, a small fruit basket, a plant or flowers are relatively ‘safe’ gifts to bring. Better yet, if there are several of you from your department attending, consider asking others to pitch in and bring one gift from all of you.

Dear Sue: We are in the home building business. At Christmas, our subcontractors give us "treats" to say thank you for all the business we give them. Is it necessary to send a thank you for their thank you?

– Judy

Sue Says: A thank you note is a nice gesture, but generally not expected in return for holiday treats. Sending a note expresses your sincere appreciation and I am sure it will be appreciated by the contractors, and a pleasant surprise. No, it isn’t necessary to write a note, but it is essential to say thank you.

Dear Sue: I liked your article on Holiday parties, but a lot of the tips you gave were about what not to do, and were largely common sense. How about some advice on what to do and how to keep involved without being bored or boring?

– Paul

Sue Says: I am happy to provide you with some things to do to help make the holiday party successful, however, don’t be surprised if these too, sound like common sense. Although common to many, more people than you imagine are clueless about what is appropriate and need to have the basic expectations reinforced.

The best way to avoid being bored or perceived as boring is to be a good conversationalist, which can be achieved by being a good listener. Take an interest in others, focus on the person you are with, ask open ended questions and really listen to what people say. You will feel involved if you move around the room, reach out to others and extend yourself to people you do not know. Make sure you are comfortable introducing yourself and introducing others. If you remain standing throughout the event, not only will you appear more engaged and approachable, but a byproduct will be that you will also maintain your energy level. Have a few conversation “openers” in mind to break the ice when talking with people you do not know well and keep the conversation light; the weather, movies, travel, holiday plans, etc. are all safe topics to talk about. Eat something before you leave home so that you won’t be overly focused on the food. And finally, hold your beverage in your left hand, keeping your right hand dry and free for greetings and a firm handshake. Hope this helps!

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

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