You arrive at your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re immediately assaulted 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.
You can’t hear anything in this loud setting. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anybody be enjoying this thing? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only one having trouble.
This most 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 jolly occasion is nothing more than a dour, 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 enjoy yourself.
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a distinct mix 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 provide some unique stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. Think about it in this way: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a bit. In a setting like this, individuals tend to talk at louder volumes and usually all at once. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
For those with hearing loss, this noise creates a certain level of interference. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. It’s not easy to isolate one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and other noises. 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 picking up and following conversations will be difficult for people with hearing loss. At first glimpse, 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, even though they are surficially social gatherings, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. It’s usually 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: It’s not uncommon for individuals 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 occasion. You can use this event to forge new connections. But it’s much harder when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand what’s happening because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. This is one reason why hearing loss and solitude often go hand-in-hand. Asking family and friends 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. No one enjoys feeling left out.
This can be even more problematic because you may not even know you have hearing loss. Usually, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you might be surprised that you’re having a tough time following the conversation. And when you notice you’re the only one, you may be even more surprised.
Hearing loss causes
So what causes this? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Basically, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated injury due to loud noises. The tiny hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
These little hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. 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 kind of hearing loss is typically permanent.
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
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 noisy setting, how can you hear better? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Find a less noisy place to have those conversations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more contextual clues you can pick up, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- 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 a lot easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will most likely never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from struggling to hear what’s happening.
Naturally, the best possible option is also one of the simplest.: 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 you pick larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Before the party, get your hearing checked
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!