You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you arrive at the yearly company holiday party. 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.
In such a noisy environment, you can’t hear a thing. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can anyone be having fun at this thing? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only one having difficulty.
For people who suffer from hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a jolly occasion is nothing more than a dark, solitary event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unscathed (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 unique blend of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). For those 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: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a bit. As a result, they are usually fairly noisy affairs, with everybody talking over each other all at once. Alcohol can definitely play a part. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
For those with hearing loss, this noise creates a certain level of interference. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. It’s difficult to isolate one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to pick out voices.
- 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 that hearing and following conversations will be challenging for people who have hearing loss. 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. Although office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. It’s usually highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: It’s not uncommon for people to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday events. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. This can be a good occasion to forge connections. But it’s much harder when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t make out what’s going on because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s constantly asking people to repeat themselves? This is one reason why hearing loss and solitude frequently go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your friends and family to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. Perhaps you’re worried they will think you’re incompetent. Your reputation may be damaged. So maybe you simply avoid interaction instead. No one likes feeling left out.
This can be even more challenging because you may not even realize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear well in noisy settings (like restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first indications of hearing loss.
You may be caught off guard when you begin to have trouble following conversations. And you may be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So what causes this? How does hearing loss develop? Typically, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated damage as a result of loud noises. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
That damage is permanent. And the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, 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 typically permanent.
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less unpleasant!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party offers 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 smoother:
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thinking starts to get a little fuzzy, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much smoother.
- Find a quieter place to have those conversations: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of sound and provide you with a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud ambient noise.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And it will never be perfect. But reading lips may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. You will be capable of filling in comprehension gaps using these contextual clues.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and customized to your particular hearing needs. Even if you go with larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
That’s why, if you can, it’s a smart idea to get your hearing assessed before the office holiday party. Due to COVID, this might be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!