You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you get to the annual company holiday party. You can feel the beat of the music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear anything in this loud setting. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all extremely disorienting. How can anybody be having fun at this thing? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only one having trouble.
This probably sounds familiar for people who suffer from hearing loss. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dour, solitary event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unharmed (and maybe 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 mix of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). For individuals who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties present 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 frequently all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is created by this, especially 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 really difficult to select one voice from overlapping conversations.
- 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 amplify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you are dealing with hearing loss.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be challenging for individuals who have hearing loss. At first glance, that might sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the professional and networking side 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. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: It isn’t unusual for individuals to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday events. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. You can use this event to forge new connections. But it’s much harder when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand what’s happening because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s always asking people to repeat what they said? This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation often go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your friends and family to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. Perhaps you’re worried they will think you’re incompetent. And that can harm your work reputation. So perhaps you simply avoid interaction instead. No one likes feeling left out.
This can be even more challenging because you might not even realize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear clearly in noisy environments (such as restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You could be caught by surprise when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And you may be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So what causes this? How do you develop hearing loss? Most commonly, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will usually take repeated injury from loud noise as you get older. The tiny hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
These little hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing becomes. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is normally permanent.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more comfortable in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party presents some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a noisy setting, how can you improve your ability to hear? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Find a less noisy place to talk with people: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the background noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. You will be able to fill in comprehension gaps using these contextual clues.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming completely exhausted from straining to hear what’s happening.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication is less effective as your thinking gets blurry. Simply put, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much smoother.
- 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.
Of course, the best possible solution is also one of the easiest.: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Before the party, get your hearing examined
If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the party. Due to COVID, this might be your first holiday party in a few years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!