Company holiday parties are often a hit or miss for how much fun you are going to have.  This is especially true when you don’t work for the company throwing the party but are going with your spouse or a friend.  For some people, a few hours of listening to inside jokes that you are on the outside of and hearing comments about bosses that you don’t know isn’t the ideal Friday night. As we head into the end of the holiday party season though, these gatherings don’t have to be something that you dread, you just have to look at them through a different lens.  Company holiday parties where you don’t know a majority of the people there provide a great, and amusing, opportunity to practice reading behavior because they come with a built in feedback loop to let you know if your observations are right or wrong.  As long as your significant other, or whomever you go to the party with, is tuned-in to the office politics that drive the relationships and interactions between the partygoers, you can learn the back-story and cause for all of the assessments that you make.  Having someone that you can trust to give you the unfiltered inside scoop is a rare opportunity when observing nonverbal behavior, but can have a huge impact on your ability to make accurate assessments in unscripted and less certain environments.

My personal goal for holiday parties is to identify the leadership and decision-makers that exist right below the executive team.  I like this group because they have access to the top people in the company, but aren’t the ones easily identified as standing right next to the CEO during their speech, so there is still a challenge there.  Lately, identifying these influential people within organizations has been one of the areas that I’ve been really focused on and holiday parties let me practice without having to turn around and use that information.  While members of the military and law enforcement refer to this process of identifying leaders as a part of the targeting process, to civilians, this is just part of networking and regardless of your profession, the ability to identify decision-makers is equally important.  Whether the goal is to collect information or get introduced, the first step of targeting and networking is knowing who it is you want to go after.

One of the reasons I’ve been so focused on identifying leaders lately is because it can be difficult to find these people in relaxed and social settings.  If they see the party as an opportunity to be more approachable than they would be at work, they might intentionally tone down the authoritativeness that comes naturally in the office.  If they decide that they are going to consciously avoid giving direction or showing dominance, which would betray their position in the company, there needs to be another way to separate these individuals from the crowd they are attempting to hide amongst. So at holiday parties, instead of trying to identify this group based on their behavior, my goal is to identify them based on the behavior of those talking to them.

While a boss might intentionally tone down their typical office behavior in order to be seen as friendly to significant others, subordinates might be less likely to break down the typical barriers. Whether it is due to a fear of repercussions once they are back at the office or a genuine respect for the person, there is less of an incentive for a subordinate to be casual and overly comfortable than there is for the leader attempting to be seen as personable and relatable.  As employees approach their boss, I am looking for the key leader indicator of adoration.  Adoration can also be observed as the submissive cluster of behavior and can be used to show true respect towards the authority figure or as a survival mechanism.  Regardless of the cause for the submissive cues, the observable behaviors are exactly the same.  These are cues that you might otherwise refer to as a person just being polite, but their body language will be used to make themselves appear smaller and nonthreatening.  There could be verbal elements to this assessment as well; perhaps as a way of showing deference to their boss, not interrupting, or letting them guide the conversation.   Even though the boss has consciously attempted to conceal their status and blend in, the submissive behavior and display of adoration coming from those around them could betray their actual role in the organization.

A leader could have numerous reasons for not wanting to be identified and exert a degree of conscious control over their own behavior, but it is very difficult to also control the behavior of those around you.  The desire for anonymity could be legitimate or criminal, but as an observer, if you have developed your file folders for identifying the leader based on the direction that they might display as well as the subordinate’s adoration, you can limit their ability to hide in plain sight and avoid detection.  It continues to force the criminal to react to your actions instead reacting to changes in his tactics because he can’t hide or control the subtle elements of behavior of everyone around him.

At the beginning of the article, I mentioned that one of the benefits of observing at holiday parties is the feedback loop that your spouse can provide you on the cause for the behaviors you observe.  Getting feedback on how accurate you are in your observations and assessments is an essential part of learning.  If you never learn if you were right or wrong, you never have the chance to improve.  Or an even worse situation is that you begin making habits out of observations that were never correct in the first place.  In unstructured situations you usually have to rely on contacting the people you have observed to determine if you were correct, but in holiday parties, you can ask those you are with.  So as you go to the different holiday parties this year, try to map out the structure of the company or organization hosting it.  Once you identify someone displaying adoration towards another, determine what the job title and role of the person displaying the adoration is as well as the role of the person on the receiving end.  These experiences and practice will help you recognize the criminal, the target or the person you are trying to network with when your spouse is no longer by your side.

Want to learn more about adoration?

I recommend that you start with an article that explains the adoration shown toward David Patraeus during a meeting with the Bulgarian Prime Minister and then watch a video of the adoration shown towards a Taliban leader by his fighters.