The season for holiday parties has only just begun. From now until the beginning of January, invitations for galas and soirees across town will be doled out, inviting everyone to celebrate a break from work with alcohol and delicious hors d’oeuvres. While it might be tempting to arrive to each with a stack of business cards and memorized sales pitch, the type of networking at these events is far different. Should you approach like a business luncheon, you can expect to see fewer invitations next year.

Holiday Happiness

Even with holiday stress, the overall mood is that of joy and thanksgiving. Employees and bosses are expected to set aside the business in order to celebrate what it achieved this year and what it hopes to in the coming year. Only during this time do people put to rest their responsibilities to enjoy life and connect with others. This is the exact reason why you should never attend these parties with the intent to sell. All year long these individuals have focused on business. During the one time they are virtually required to not think about it, the last thing they want to run into is business.

A New Focus

Where does this leave you, a person desperate to grow their network?

It leaves you in one of the most comfortable positions. You don’t have to worry about a sales pitch. You don’t have to worry about handing around business cards. The only thing that should be on your mind is selling yourself through engaging conversation, attentive listening and a real enjoyment of the current festivities. If that kind of gathering stresses you out, you’re not alone. Alcohol always flows at these get togethers because a lot of other people are uncomfortable as well and need something to help them warm up to the crowd.

While you might not think this kind of networking is beneficial to your goals, you are entirely undervaluing the strength of bonds that form in a more personal situation. Shared experiences connect people. This is how friends and family remain close after years of separation. In addition, the focus on something other than work means you and coworkers can find even more commonalities to strengthen whatever ties you share. Simply put, holiday parties are the perfect places for you to establish a simple connection that opens up the doors to future contact once work starts up again.

Keeping it Civil

Though it’s definitely a good idea to get to know your fellow workers on a more personal level at these parties, it’s also extremely important to know what not to talk about. Touchy subjects like politics, religion and other hot-button conversation pieces will only serve to infuriate some while isolate others. You don’t want this. You want to make yourself approachable.

Also, know your limit. Alcohol will be free-flowing and tempting to take full advantage of. Do not become “that person” of the party. You want to be remembered for your wit or your charm, not for how embarrassingly you acted because you couldn’t control yourself in a public situation. Acting in such an irresponsible manner will only ruin your chances to network in the future.

Break Away

We all naturally gravitate toward our cliques – groups we are familiar and comfortable with, groups that we have shared experiences with. If you ever hope to expand your horizons at such an event, you have to forcefully pull yourself away and go meet new people. It can be scary but the holidays usually bring out the best in everyone, making even complete strangers more receptive to new conversation. If you’re unsure how to do this, simply pick someone out and approach them with a smile and a question they have to answer. By prompting them, you’ve taken away the hardest part of starting a new conversation, making the person in question more receptive to continuing with an answer.

As for where to find these new people, the rule of thumb is to stay near the food table or the bar. These two locations are the only places people will end up returning to time and again throughout the course of the evening. They are the perfect places to connect, meet new people, listen to stories and deepen your relationship with the 18 people you need to know.