You get to your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re immediately assaulted by noise. You can feel the pumping music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
In such a noisy setting, you can’t hear anything. You can’t keep up with 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 see that you’re the only one that seems to be having trouble.
For people who suffer from hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for a person with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But don’t worry! You can make it through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and perhaps you will even enjoy yourself.
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
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 with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties provide some unique stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. Think about it in this way: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In an environment like this, individuals tend to talk at higher volumes and often at the same time. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
For those with hearing loss, this noise generates a certain amount of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties include lots of people all talking simultaneously. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s extremely hard to pick out one voice among overlapping conversations.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- Indoor gatherings tend to boost the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means anyone with hearing loss will have difficulty hearing and following conversations. At first glimpse, that might sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking aspect of things is where the big deal is. Although office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. 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 chance to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own section. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. This can be a good occasion to forge connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s constantly asking people to repeat what they said? 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 colleagues are a different story. Perhaps you’re concerned they will think you’re incompetent. Your reputation could be compromised. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. No one likes feeling left out.
You might not even recognize 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.
As a result, you might be alarmed that you’re having a difficult time following the conversation. And when you notice you’re the only one, you may be even more surprised.
Hearing loss causes
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss happen? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Your ears will normally take repeated injury from loud noise as you get older. The stereocilia (fragile hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become compromised.
These tiny hairs never heal and can’t be repaired. 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 kind of hearing loss is usually irreversible.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more comfortable in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more fun
You don’t want to miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. So, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you improve your ability to hear? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable with these tips:
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. By doing this, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from straining to hear what’s happening.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Try sitting off to the side 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.
- 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: And possibly even spend some time hanging around individuals who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. The more context clues you can pick up, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thinking starts to get a little blurry, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. Simply put, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and tailored to your specific 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 tested before the party
That’s why, if possible, it’s a smart idea to get your hearing assessed before the office holiday party. Due to COVID, this may be your first holiday party in a few years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!