You arrive at your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re instantly bombarded by noise. You can feel the pumping music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
In such a loud setting, you can’t hear anything. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all really disorienting. How can this be fun for anyone? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only person having trouble.
This most likely sounds familiar for people who are dealing with hearing loss. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun affair is nothing more than a dour, solitary event. But don’t worry! You can make it through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and perhaps you will even have a good time.
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique blend of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). For individuals with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties introduce some unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prevalent. Think about it like this: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. As a result, they tend to be rather noisy events, with everyone talking over each other all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is created by this, especially for people who have hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s extremely hard to identify one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and other noises. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- Indoor gatherings tend to amplify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher on your ears when you are dealing with hearing loss.
This means that picking up and following conversations will be difficult for individuals with hearing loss. At first look, that might sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Although office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. At any rate, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to think about:
- You can network: It’s not unusual 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 more challenging when you have hearing loss and can’t understand what’s happening because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals 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 co-workers are a different story. Perhaps you’re worried they will think you’re not competent. Your reputation may be damaged. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
This can be even more challenging because you might not even realize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear well in noisy settings (such as restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You may be caught off guard when you start to have trouble following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more concerned.
Hearing loss causes
So what causes this? How does hearing loss develop? Usually, it’s caused by age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will normally take repeated damage from loud noise as you get older. The delicate 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 keep getting worse the more stereocilia that die. In most circumstances, this type of hearing loss is irreversible (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the injury takes place).
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less unpleasant!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that come along with that office holiday party. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy setting? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- 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.
- Find a quieter place to talk with people: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can block a lot of noise and give you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud ambient noise.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time with individuals who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual signals.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thinking starts to get a little fuzzy, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much easier.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. By doing this, you can avoid becoming totally exhausted from struggling to hear what’s going on.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: 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 your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see 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 might be your first holiday party in a few years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!