Holiday parties are a weird mash-up of alcohol, appetizers, premature Christmas music, and small-talk with strangers. In my experience, whenever two business people try to make conversation for the first time, they rarely form a genuine connection. Think back to the last time you made a new acquaintance at a holiday mixer. No doubt you spent the first few minutes talking about the weather and the terrible, terrible traffic. You probably asked them what they did for a living and whether they were getting away for the holidays, focusing on safe, banal topics in an effort to avoid awkward silences or potentially controversial topics. After concluding the exchange, you moved on and had the very same forgettable conversation with the next stranger. No wonder schmoozing has such a bad reputation.
But is authenticity a viable alternative? When they ask you, "so, how is business?" do you tell them that Q4 is coming up soft and by the way, you're still getting over that client who fired you last week? Do you tell them that the holidays always make you a little sad because your extended family is spread all over the country? You would certainly stand out from everyone else who insists their whole year has been "crazy busy" and that "everything is great." You would also risk being perceived as a downer.
I don't claim to have the right answers to these questions—I struggle to strike that balance of authenticity and propriety with every conversation. Sometimes I feel like I'm being true to myself, sometimes I feel like I'm putting on a face. If I feel comfortable with the other person, I tend to let my guard down and share a few challenges alongside my victories. Sure, it's risky and feels vulnerable, but if they respond in kind, it gives me an indicator that this could be the beginning of a worthwhile relationship and not just another holiday schmooze.
Authored by David Ackert