You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you get to the annual company holiday party. You can feel the pumping music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
In such a loud 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 this be fun for anyone? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only one having trouble.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for someone who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But have no fear! You can make it through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and maybe you will even have a good time.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties are usually a unique blend of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is especially true) even if your hearing is healthy. If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties have unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. Think about it in this way: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. This means they are usually rather noisy events, with everyone talking over each other all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? absolutely. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
For those with hearing loss, this noise creates a certain level of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to select one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a hard time separating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor gatherings tend to amplify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be challenging for people with hearing loss. This might not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking aspect of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, even though they are supposed to be social events, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. It’s usually highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: It isn’t unusual for people to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday events. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. This can be a fantastic chance to make connections. But it’s more challenging when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t make out what’s happening because of the overwhelming noise.
- 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 because of this. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation could be compromised. So maybe you simply avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anyone!
You might not even know that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger issue. The inability to hear well in noisy settings (such as restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first indications of hearing loss.
You may 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.
Causes of hearing loss
So what causes this? How do you develop hearing loss? Typically, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will typically experience repeated injury from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
These tiny 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 typically permanent.
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less unpleasant!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party presents some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy environment? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. The more context clues you can pick up, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And it will never be perfect. But reading lips may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. In this way, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from struggling to hear what’s happening.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thoughts start to get a little fuzzy, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. The whole thing will be much easier if you go easy on the drinking.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: invest in a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and tailored to your specific hearing needs. Even if you opt for larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Before the party, get your hearing checked
That’s why, if possible, it’s a smart idea to get your hearing tested 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.