You’re bombarded 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 noisy environment. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anyone be enjoying this thing? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
For people with hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for someone with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unscathed (and perhaps even have some fun at the same time).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a distinct blend of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). For people with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties introduce some unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prevalent. Think about it in this way: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. As a result, they are usually rather noisy events, with everyone talking over each other all at once. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is produced by this, particularly for individuals with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. It’s difficult to isolate one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. 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 anyone with hearing loss will experience 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, even though they are supposed to be social gatherings, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. In any event, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: Holiday parties are the perfect opportunity 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. You can use this event to make new connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. 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 concerned they will think you’re not competent. 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!
This can be even more challenging because you might not even recognize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear well in noisy settings (such as restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first indications of hearing loss.
You may be caught off guard when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more alarmed.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this take place? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Basically, as you get older, your ears most likely experience repeated damage as a consequence of loud noises. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
These little hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. In most circumstances, hearing loss like this is irreversible (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the damage occurs).
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little 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 noisy environment, how can you improve your ability to hear? You can make that office party smoother and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Find a quieter place to talk with people: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of sound and provide you with a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud background noise.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication will be less effective as your thinking gets fuzzy. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot easier.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. This will help prevent you from getting completely exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time with individuals who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. The more context clues you can get, the more you can fill in any gaps.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and tailored to your specific hearing needs. Even if you pick larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. Because of COVID, this may be your first holiday party in a few years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!