You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you arrive at the annual company holiday party. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the pulsating beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
In such a noisy environment, you can’t hear a thing. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can anybody be enjoying this thing? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only person having difficulty.
For individuals with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for a person who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unscathed (and maybe 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 distinct combination of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties have unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prevalent. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little bit. In an environment like this, people tend to talk at higher volumes and often at the same time. Alcohol can definitely play a part. But even dry office parties can be a little on the boisterous side.
Some interference is generated by this, especially for individuals with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties feature dozens of people all talking over each other. It’s not easy to isolate one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and other noises. Your brain has a difficult 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 anybody with hearing loss will have trouble hearing and following conversations. This may not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Even though office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. In any event, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It’s not uncommon for people to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. You can use this event to forge new connections. But it’s more challenging when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t make out what’s going on because of the overpowering noise.
- 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 for this reason. Even if you ask your family and friends to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s not the same with co-workers. Maybe you’re concerned they will think you’re not competent. Your reputation may be compromised. So maybe you just avoid interaction instead. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You might not even know that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. The inability to hear clearly in noisy settings (like restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first indications of hearing loss.
As a result, you may be alarmed that you’re having a hard time following the conversation. And when you notice you’re the only one, you might be even more alarmed.
Causes of hearing loss
So what is the cause of this? How do you develop hearing loss? Typically, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated injury as a consequence of loud noises. The fragile hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
These little hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. In most cases, hearing loss like this is permanent (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the injury takes place).
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more pleasant in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more enjoyable
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 environment, how can you hear better? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Refrain from drinking too many adult beverages: If your thinking starts to get a little blurry, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time hanging around individuals who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual clues.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. In this way, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from straining to hear what’s happening.
- Find a quieter place to talk with people: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
Of course, the best possible solution is also one of the easiest.: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
That’s why, if you can, it’s a smart idea to get your hearing checked 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.