Maybe you’re already an asset to every room you enter, or you’re so rich or powerful that you don’t actually need social graces. But if the first you hear of a party is often the morning after, when colleagues are clucking a coworker’s indirection, or at a T-ball game, when one neighbor gushes to another about last night’s Chicken Marbella, you might want to reexamine your social skills. Parties are a chance to goose your career, foment new connections (romantic or just friendly), and throw your head back in laughter with your neighbors from the cul-de-sac. You want to be a good guest, and there’s no reason not to be. It’s in the skill set.
Of course, the small strokes of good guesting are very much venue dependent. A party at a club full of strangers calls for different moves than does a quiet dinner party with old friends in New Canaan. But some guiding principles endure whether you’re wolfing down wings at a suburban Super Bowl bash or closing a deal at a trade-show mix-and-mingle. And if you’d rather keep the festivities in your own territory, check out the 20 Creative Ways to Turn Your Backyard into an Amazing Party Space.
Bring your A-game.
There’s a common buzzkill slogan: “With rights come responsibilities.” (You may have heard this whenever you get your driver’s license, or pass that exalted 21st birthday.) Once you hit adulthood, you’ll have enough maturity to understand the true meaning behind the phrase. When you accept an invitation, you take on a duty to help that party work. The host is depending on you to bring intrigue or wit or affection or info or magnetism or whatever you’ve got to this event. Don’t cross a threshold passively, willing to have your glass filled. Arrive ready to pour. And to make sure you don’t accidentally bring your B-game, learn the 20 Social Etiquette Mistakes You Should Stop Making by Age 30.
Feel like an asset to the room.
Enter the room with a sense that it’s enhanced by your arrival. No, not as though you own it and members of the opposite sex are all aquiver as you heave into view, but just as though you’re arriving from someplace interesting and you bring news of the teeming world out there. If you feel like an asset, you have a better chance of being one.
Ignore the little voice.
You know that censor in your head that whispers, “Everything you’re about to say is dumb”? Well, smart doesn’t matter here. It’s a party, not a seminar. Parties should summon our laugh function and our flirtation function, not our analyze-the-business-cycle-in-a-global-marketplace function. Have trust in sentences that are content free, as long as they’re delivered with a sense of engagement in life. Parties depend on plain delight in human exchange. And if you need help bubbling up, Dazzle Any Gathering with These 14 Savvy Small-Talk Tips.
Enjoy the world.
Enthusiasm is tricky terrain. Too much, overtly expressed enthusiasm is unbecoming; it can seem childish or, worse, innocent. But too little means you ain’t paying attention to the effusions of this yeasty world. An understated taste for the game is much wished for in a party guest—or anybody else, for that matter. So, everything anybody else says is either interesting or funny or good to know or a great observation. And anything you say—a thumbs-up for the new Mission Impossible, a searing piece of office gossip—is offered in a spirit of sharing.
Yeah, that’s right, phony. Make no mistake, we’re believers in integrity, the whole straight-talking, your-uncle-can’t-say-a-sentence-he-doesn’t-mean approach to life. We encourage that sort of honor—just not at parties. Parties are artificial by nature. In fact, their success depends on the lubricity of insincerity. If you go around saying exactly what you mean and meaning exactly what you say, odds are there’ll be a throw-down in the living room. Not good.
Think of it this way: Yes, flattery is phony. But it’s also kind. Yes, your colleague is your mortal enemy. But hey, it’s a party! And believe it or not, he’s got feelings, too. So make nice—just for tonight. Don’t worry. You won’t end up crossing the river Styx. You might even have some laughs. And if you’re inkling to cause some laughs, start with the 40 Corniest Jokes You Can’t Help But Laugh At.
Remember the royal.
Queen Victoria once observed that, when she was with Gladstone, she was convinced that he was the most interesting person in the kingdom; but when she was with Disraeli, she was convinced that she was the most interesting person in the kingdom. Good guests make others feel like the queen.
Be a bee.
Say you’re at a cocktail party, and a new acquaintance, Vlad, is regaling you with an accounts of the exotic, far-flung adventures he and his wife regularly embark on. You remember that, just last week your friend Lucy was lamenting that she and Stan have fallen into a rut. (Cabo, again?) “I’d like you to meet my friend,” you say to Vlad without, of course, giving away anything, and you walk him over to Lucy.
We’ve exaggerated the perfect yin-and-yang nature of Vlad and Lucy to make the bigger point: Good guests are matchmakers, intentional about putting people with like minds or common interests or similar sensibilities together. But superior guests, like bees, are cross-pollinators.
Feel the love.
It’s inspiring that, from our earliest knuckle-dragging days, our species has thrown parties. Despite the fact that there is some truth in Sartre’s famous harrumph—you know: that one about people and the afterlife—we keep gathering, for cocktails or chili. It’s a testament to our hope in one another. We continue to think that if we get everybody together and share some munchies and mead, we’ll have a few laughs and gladden each other with fellowship, and maybe the night won’t seem so dark.
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