You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you arrive at the yearly company holiday party. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the throbbing beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
You can’t hear anything in this loud environment. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re totally disoriented. 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 difficulty.
This likely 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 affair is nothing more than a dour, solitary event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unharmed (and perhaps even have some fun while you’re at it).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties can be a unique combination of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. For those who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties introduce some unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. To put it into perspective: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In an environment like this, people have the tendency to talk at higher volumes and often at the same time. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the boisterous side.
For those with hearing loss, this noise creates a certain level of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties include lots of people all talking simultaneously. It’s difficult to isolate one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain has a difficult time isolating voices from all of this information.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even harder to hear because sound can become amplified.
This means anybody with hearing loss will have difficulty hearing and following conversations. At first look, 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, though they are surficially social events, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. It’s usually highly encouraged to go to these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: Holiday parties are a great chance to network with employees from other departments or even catch up with co-workers in your own department. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. This can be a good opportunity to forge connections. But it’s much harder when you have hearing loss and can’t make out what’s going on because of the overpowering noise.
- 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 frequently go hand-in-hand. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anyone!
You may not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. The inability to hear clearly in noisy environments (such as restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first signs of hearing loss.
As a result, you may be alarmed that you’re having a hard time following the conversation. And you might be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So what is the cause of this? How do you develop hearing loss? Most commonly, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will usually take repeated damage from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (fragile hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become damaged.
That damage is permanent. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that die. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is normally irreversible.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more pleasant in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more enjoyable
Your office party presents some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, when you’re in a noisy setting, how can you hear better? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Find a quieter place to talk with people: Possibly try sitting on a couch 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 better during loud background noise.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thinking starts to get a little blurry, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And you will most likely never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- 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 fill in any gaps.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. This will help stop you from becoming completely exhausted after having to listen really hard.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle 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
That’s why, if possible, it’s a good idea to have your hearing checked before the office holiday party. You may not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to catch you off guard.