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As an outdoor adventurist and professional mountain climber, I’ve faced my share of life-or-death situations — all the way from the tundra of Denali Park to the summit of Mt. Everest. But as frightening as these encounters have been, they don’t compare to the career trouble my colleagues face when they attempt to navigate the most challenging business environment of them all: The annual office holiday party.
Fortunately, the mountain teaches many lessons about survival, useful not only at 28,000 feet but also as high as the 28th floor of your office building. Let me share with you the valuable strategies my life as a climber has taught me about dealing with dangerous conditions — even at social functions.
1. Go in with a plan. Always have a game plan going in and adhere to it without fail. If that means only having one drink or no drinks at all … if that means not talking to the flirt in accounting who’s always making eye contact … if that means not telling your boss what you really think about the new policy on logging billable hours, stick to it. Create the parameters of your climb and stay within them. Don’t veer from the path or let some alternate challenge or shiny object get you off course.
2. Establish a base camp. As climbers, when we’re making a summit attempt and conditions suddenly change, we make a beeline for our base camp. You should do the same. Find that table or pack of friends, or even the solitude of your cubicle, where you can retreat. You want a place to regroup with yourself and others to re-establish your bearings, recommit to your goals and assess the situation from a place of support.
3. Get a little oxygen. At high altitude, the air can become too thin and sound judgment can be impaired. The same can happen at an office party that’s heating up for whatever reason. Adventurists like myself rely on supplemental oxygen to keep us thinking rationally on the mountain. The same strategy can be used at the office party. Take a break. Step outside. Get a breath of fresh air, or simply take a timeout from the situation to assess how you’re doing.
4. Conserve your energy. It’s all very exciting, this opportunity to hobnob with firm personnel, the famous and the infamous. But resist the temptation to do too much. Don’t overstay your welcome with any one group. Don’t talk too much (this is one thing we learn at high altitude for sure). And pace yourself in everything you do — no over eating, drinking, laughing, singing or dancing. Participate in everything, for sure. But don’t over indulge. Conserve your energy and keep your resources in balance.
5. Have an exit strategy. Whether you encounter adverse conditions or simply have had enough, have an exit strategy before you walk through the door. Give yourself a curfew. Say goodbye to the necessary people. Make your goodbyes short and sweet. And resist the temptation to take anything from the mountain home with you.
Office parties are a great way to get to know your colleagues better, impress the partners with your social skills and show off a more casual side of your personality. But always keep in mind, as we do on the mountain, that it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Remember it’s still a work function, with an agenda, goals and contingency plans. Keep these mountaineering skills in mind and you can summit the party peak a winner.
Adrian Ballinger is a certified IFMGA/AMGA mountain guide and founder and CEO of Alpenglow Expeditions. He has been guiding full-time for 15 years and has led over 100 international climbing expeditions on five continents, including six successful summits of Mt. Everest.
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