You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you get to the yearly company holiday party. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the pulsating beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
You can’t hear anything in this noisy setting. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re completely disoriented. How can anybody be having fun at this thing? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only one having difficulty.
For individuals with hearing loss, this likely sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for somebody who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unscathed (and perhaps even have some fun while you’re at it).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties are usually a unique mix 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 have distinct stressors.
Most notable is the noise. Think about it like this: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little bit. This means they tend to be rather noisy events, with everybody talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise generates a certain level of interference. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. It’s difficult to pick out one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to pick out voices.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties such as office parties can make it even more difficult to hear because sound can become amplified.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be difficult for individuals who have hearing loss. This may not sound like a very big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the professional and networking aspect of things. Office holiday parties, even though they are supposed to be social gatherings, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. At any rate, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: Holiday parties are a great opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own department. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. This can be a fantastic chance to forge connections. But it’s more challenging when you have hearing loss and can’t make out what’s going on because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s constantly asking people to repeat themselves? Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand for this reason. Even if you ask your family and friends to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s not the same with co-workers. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can damage your work reputation. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
You might not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger issue. Usually, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you may be alarmed that you’re having difficulty following the conversation. 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. Your ears will usually experience repeated injury from loud noise as you get older. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become compromised.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. In most instances, hearing loss like this is permanent (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the damage happens).
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more comfortable in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party offers 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:
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. The more context clues you can get, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And you will most likely never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Find a quieter place to talk with people: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. This will help prevent you from getting totally exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication will be less effective as your thinking gets blurry. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: invest in a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and customized 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 tested 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.