You’re bombarded 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.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear a thing in this loud environment. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having difficulty.
For people with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a jolly affair is nothing more than a dark, solitary event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unscathed (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 (especially if you’re an introvert). For people who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties present some unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. Think about it like this: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a bit. This means they are usually fairly noisy events, with everyone talking over each other all at once. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is created by this, particularly for people 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.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to pick out voices.
- Indoor gatherings 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 hearing and following conversations will be challenging for individuals who have 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 occurs and connections are made. It’s normally highly encouraged to go to these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to think about:
- You can network: Holiday parties are an ideal chance 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. This can be an excellent opportunity to make connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand for this reason. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation may be compromised. So maybe you just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anyone!
This can be even more troublesome because you might not even recognize you have hearing loss. Usually, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you may be alarmed that you’re having a hard time following the conversation. 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? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Your ears will usually experience repeated injury from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (delicate 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 protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is normally irreversible.
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less unpleasant!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party presents some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you hear better? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable with these tips:
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of noise and provide you with a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud background noise.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming completely exhausted from struggling 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. The more contextual clues you can pick up, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But reading lips may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Avoid drinking too many cocktails: If your thoughts start to get a little fuzzy, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. In other words, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.
Of course, the best possible solution is also one of the easiest.: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be tailored 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.
Before the party, get your hearing tested
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. You may not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to catch you off guard.