You get to your company’s annual holiday party and you’re immediately bombarded by noise. You can feel the pumping music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
In such a noisy environment, you can’t hear a thing. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can this be fun for anyone? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only person having difficulty.
This probably sounds familiar for people who are dealing with hearing loss. Unique stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for a person with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark 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 enjoy yourself.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties are usually a unique combination of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is especially true) even if your hearing is healthy. For people who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties introduce some unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little bit. In a setting like this, individuals have the tendency to talk at louder volumes and often all at once. Alcohol can definitely play a part. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise generates a certain amount of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s extremely hard to identify one voice among overlapping discussions.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- Indoor events 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 anyone with hearing loss will experience trouble hearing and following conversations. This may 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, though they are supposed to be social events, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. 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 people to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday events. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. You can use this event to make new connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s constantly asking people to repeat what they said? This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation frequently 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 just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
This can be even more problematic because you might not even recognize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear well in noisy environments (such as restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first indications of hearing loss.
As a result, you may be surprised that you’re having difficulty following the conversation. And when you notice you’re the only one, you may be even more concerned.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this take place? 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 (tiny hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become compromised.
These tiny hairs never heal and can’t be repaired. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. In most circumstances, this type of hearing loss is irreversible (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the damage happens).
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less unpleasant!
Tips to make your office party more fun
You don’t want to 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:
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. By doing this, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from struggling to hear what’s happening.
- 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. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And you will most likely never perfect this. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Have conversations in quieter spots: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. Sometimes, 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.
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time with people who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. The more contextual clues you can get, the more you can fill in any gaps.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the easiest.: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and customized to your particular hearing needs. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
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 sneak up and surprise you.