You get to your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re instantly bombarded by noise. 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.
In such a noisy setting, you can’t hear anything. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all extremely disorienting. How can this be fun for anyone? But then you look around and see that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
This likely sounds familiar for people who suffer from hearing loss. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dour, solitary 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
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 come with distinct stressors.
Most notable is the noise. To put it into perspective: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. This means they tend to be fairly noisy events, with everybody talking over each other all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? absolutely. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is produced by this, especially for individuals with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s extremely hard to pick out one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain has a difficult time separating voices from all of this information.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even harder to hear because sound can become amplified.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be difficult for individuals who have hearing loss. This may not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the professional and networking side of things. Office holiday parties, though they are supposed to be social events, a lot of networking takes place 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: Holiday parties are an ideal opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own section. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. You can use this event to make new connections. But it’s harder when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t make out what’s going on 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. Even if you ask your family and friends to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s not the same with co-workers. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can damage your work reputation. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You may not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger issue. 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 may be caught by surprise when you begin to have trouble following conversations. And you may be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this happen? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Your ears will usually experience repeated damage from loud noise as you get older. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become compromised.
These little hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is typically permanent.
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more fun
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 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: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from getting totally exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time with people who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. The more contextual clues you can get, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Avoid drinking too many adult beverages: Communication will be less successful as your thinking gets blurry. In other words, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much smoother.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And it won’t ever be perfect. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Find a quieter place to have those conversations: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can block a lot of noise and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud background noise.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and customized to your particular 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 examined
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. You might not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to sneak up and surprise you.