You get to your company’s annual holiday party and you’re immediately bombarded by noise. 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 noisy setting, you can’t hear anything. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all really disorienting. How can anybody be enjoying this thing? But then you look around and see that you’re the only person that seems to be having difficulty.
This likely sounds familiar for individuals who are dealing with hearing loss. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dark, solitary event. But don’t worry! You can get through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and maybe you will even have a good time.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
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 people with 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: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a bit. In a setting like this, individuals have the tendency to talk at louder volumes and frequently at the same time. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But even dry office parties can be a little on the boisterous side.
Some interference is created by this, particularly for individuals with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties feature dozens of people all talking over each other. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to select one voice among overlapping conversations.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain can’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- Indoor events tend to boost 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 picking up and following conversations will be difficult for people who have hearing loss. This may not sound like a very big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, even though they are supposed to be social gatherings, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. It’s normally highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It isn’t uncommon for individuals to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday events. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. This can be an excellent chance to make connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can be challenging to talk with anyone.
- 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. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. Perhaps you’re worried they will think you’re incompetent. And that can harm your work reputation. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. No one likes feeling left out.
This can be even more problematic because you might not even realize you have hearing loss. Typically, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
You could be caught by surprise when you begin to have trouble following conversations. And when you observe 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? Most commonly, it’s caused by age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Basically, as you get older, your ears likely experience repeated damage as a result of loud noises. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become damaged.
These little hairs never heal and can’t be repaired. And the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, the worse your hearing becomes. In most circumstances, this type of hearing loss is permanent (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the injury occurs).
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more enjoyable in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. So, when you’re in a noisy setting, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. In this way, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
- 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 information gaps using these contextual clues.
- 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. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much smoother.
- 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.
- Find a less noisy place to have those conversations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly quieter.
Of course, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a set 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 notice your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing checked before the party
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. Due to COVID, this may be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!