You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you get to the annual company holiday party. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the pulsating beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear a thing in this noisy setting. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all extremely disorienting. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
This probably sounds familiar for individuals who are dealing with hearing loss. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dour, solitary event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unharmed (and maybe even have some fun at the same time).
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties can be a unique mix of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is especially true) even if your hearing is healthy. For people who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties provide some unique stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little. As a result, they are usually rather noisy affairs, with lots of people talking over each other all at once. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise generates a certain level of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to pick out one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and other noises. Your brain has a hard time isolating voices from all of this information.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even more difficult to hear because sound tends to become amplified.
This means anybody with hearing loss will have trouble hearing and following conversations. At first glance, that may sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the networking and professional aspect of things. Although office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. In any event, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: Holiday parties are a great chance to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own section. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. This can be a good occasion to forge connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can be hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation often go hand-in-hand. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. Maybe you’re worried they will think you’re not competent. Your reputation could be damaged. So maybe you simply avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anybody!
You may not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. Usually, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
You could be caught by surprise when you begin to have trouble following conversations. And you might be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So what causes this? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Basically, as you get older, your ears most likely experience repeated injury as a consequence of loud noises. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that die. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is typically permanent.
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less unpleasant!
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that come along with that office holiday party. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy environment? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication is less successful as your thinking gets blurry. In other words, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much smoother.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it won’t ever be perfect. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. You will be capable of filling in comprehension gaps using these contextual clues.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly quieter.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the easiest.: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and personalized to your particular hearing needs. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people notice your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing checked before the party
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. You may not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to catch you off guard.