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Dear Anna,

It’s the time of year I dread most. The team Christmas lunch is just around the corner and I really don’t want to go, but I know I have to. Do you have any survival tips?

I’ll let you in on a little secret: those lunches aren’t my idea of fun either. You do need to go – as do I – and here are some of the things I use to talk myself into it. I usually enjoy them once I’m there, but the choice between a celebration lunch and sitting quietly in the park with a good book is a tough one. 

A problem shared is a problem half solved. Fans of English phrases will know that this proverb ends with “A joy shared is a joy doubled”. Tell a trusted friend that you aren’t really looking forward to the lunch and ask them if you can arrive together or sit together. Having them sit diagonally across the table is better than sitting beside you to make it easy to talk to them and contribute to the conversation with others. Make a mental list of good things that have happened for the group during the year and use this lunch to reflect and remember. It’s easy to forget the success that happened back in May when all you are thinking about is how many days until the holidays. 

Build a bond and a bridge. As you sit at lunch, slightly bored listening to people talk about things you are not interested in (insert sarcasm here), give yourself something useful to do. Can you identify the people you have a genuine bond with? How many are there and when did you first meet them? Celebrate these friendships and enjoy each other’s company. Next come the bridges. These are people who are friends of your friends. You might not know them well, but your friends think highly of them. Lunches are a great place to meet them and learn more about them. Sometimes they become friends, sometimes they don’t and sometimes they fall down. Bonds and bridges are two types of social capital identified by Professor Daniel Aldrich. It might freak you out to know they came from an examination of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. A word to the wise: keep your reactor cool with mineral water, not the hard liquor, to avoid meltdown. 

Time it to perfection. While the last thing you want to do is be awkwardly early, don’t arrive so late that the table is filled and conversation has already started. Arrive right on time, ideally just after the host or first part of the team has sat down at the table. Everyone will be kicking the conversation off and you can be part of getting it started. Have a reason to leave at a particular time or take advantage of a person who is leaving and walk back to the office with them to make a professional exit. Thank the host or the organiser before you leave or just afterwards. If you didn’t want to go, imagine how they feel having had to convince everyone to go. 

Teams with good social capital outperform those that don’t get along. So, turn up to that end-of-year lunch with a good attitude, and hopefully it’s not as awkward as you fear. Happy holidays, everyone. See you in the new year.