You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you get to the annual company holiday party. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the throbbing beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear a thing in this loud setting. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re completely disoriented. How can anyone be enjoying this thing? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only one having difficulty.
For individuals with hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for someone 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 unharmed (and perhaps even have some fun while you’re at it).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique combination of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties have distinct stressors.
Most notable is the noise. Think about it in this way: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a bit. This means they tend to be rather noisy affairs, with lots of people talking over each other all at the same time. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is created by this, especially for individuals who have hearing loss. That’s because:
- Office parties feature lots of people all talking simultaneously. It’s not easy to isolate one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and other noises. Your brain can’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even more difficult to hear because sound can become amplified.
This means anybody with hearing loss will experience trouble hearing and following conversations. 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 side of things. Even though office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. At any rate, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. 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 meet 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 occasion to make 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 always asking people to repeat what they said? Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand because of this. Even if you ask your friends and family to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. Maybe you’re concerned they will think you’re not competent. And that can damage your work reputation. So maybe you just avoid interaction instead. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You may not even realize 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.
You could be caught off guard when you start to have difficulty following conversations. And you may be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this occur? How does hearing loss develop? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Essentially, as you age, your ears likely experience repeated damage due to loud noises. The stereocilia (fragile hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
That damage is permanent. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing becomes. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is usually permanent.
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less uncomfortable!
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, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy setting? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. By doing this, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from struggling to hear what’s happening.
- Refrain from drinking too many adult beverages: If your thinking starts to get a little fuzzy, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will most likely never perfect this. But reading lips may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual signals.
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly less loud.
Naturally, the best possible option is also one of the simplest.: invest in a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and personalized to your specific hearing needs. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people notice 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 several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!