You get to your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re instantly bombarded by noise. You can feel the pumping music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear anything in this noisy setting. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all extremely disorienting. How can anyone be enjoying this thing? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only person having trouble.
For individuals with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a jolly occasion is nothing more than a dour, solitary event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unscathed (and maybe even have some fun while you’re at it).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties are usually a unique combination of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. If you struggle to hear when there’s a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. Think about it in this way: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. This means they are usually rather noisy events, with lots of people talking over each other all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is generated by this, particularly for people with hearing loss. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s extremely difficult to identify one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a difficult time isolating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor events tend to magnify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means anyone with hearing loss will experience trouble hearing and following conversations. At first glance, that might sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, even though they are supposed to be social events, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. It’s usually highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: Holiday parties are a great opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even catch 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. You can use this event to forge new connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand for this reason. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. Maybe you’re worried they will think you’re incompetent. Your reputation may be damaged. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You may not even realize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. The inability to hear well in noisy settings (like restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You could be caught off guard when you start to have trouble following conversations. And you may be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this happen? How does hearing loss happen? Most commonly, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Basically, as you age, your ears likely experience repeated damage due to loud noises. The fragile hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
That damage is permanent. And the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, the worse your hearing will be. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is normally permanent.
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less uncomfortable!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party presents some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, when you’re in a loud environment, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Refrain from drinking too many cocktails: If your thoughts start to get a little fuzzy, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. Simply put, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot easier.
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time hanging around people who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be able to fill in comprehension gaps using these contextual signals.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can block a lot of noise and give you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud ambient noise.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. This will help stop you from getting completely exhausted after having to listen really hard.
Of course, the best possible option is also one of the easiest.: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and tailored to your particular hearing needs. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing assessed 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 sneak up and surprise you.