You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you get to the annual company holiday party. You can feel the pumping music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear anything in this loud setting. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all really disorienting. How can this be fun for anyone? But then you look around and see that you’re the only one that seems to be having difficulty.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for a person with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unharmed (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). 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: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In a setting like this, people have the tendency to talk at higher volumes and often all at once. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise creates a certain degree of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. It’s difficult to isolate one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a hard time separating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor events tend to magnify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means anybody with hearing loss will have trouble picking up and following conversations. At first look, that might sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking aspect of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, though they are supposed to be social events, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. At any rate, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to think about:
- You can network: It’s not unusual for people to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday events. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. This can be a fantastic chance to forge connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. This is one reason why hearing loss and solitude frequently go hand-in-hand. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So perhaps you simply avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anyone!
This can be even more problematic because you might not even recognize you have hearing loss. Usually, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you might be surprised that you’re having a difficult time following the conversation. And you might be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this happen? 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 take repeated injury from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
These little hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is usually permanent.
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less unpleasant!
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
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 setting? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. This will help prevent you from becoming totally exhausted after having to listen really hard.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can block a lot of sound and provide you with a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud background noise.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication is less effective as your thinking gets blurry. The whole thing will be a lot 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 capable of filling in information gaps using these contextual signals.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and customized to your specific hearing needs. Even if you pick larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Get your hearing checked before the party
That’s why, if you can, it’s a smart idea to have your hearing tested before the office holiday 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.