You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you get to the yearly company holiday party. You can feel the pumping music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
In such a noisy environment, you can’t hear anything. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only one that seems to be having trouble.
For individuals with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a fun affair is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unscathed (and maybe even have some fun at the same time).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties can be a unique combination of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little bit. In a setting like this, individuals have the tendency to talk at louder volumes and frequently all at once. Alcohol can definitely play a part. 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. That’s because:
- Office parties include lots of people all talking over each other. It’s not easy to isolate one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a hard time separating voices from all of this information.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even more difficult to hear because sound can become amplified.
This means anyone with hearing loss will have difficulty picking up and following conversations. This might not sound like a very 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 is done and connections are made. At any rate, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: Holiday parties are an ideal chance to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own department. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, 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 overpowering and it can be 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 solitude frequently go hand-in-hand. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation could be compromised. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. No one likes feeling left out.
This can be even more problematic because you might not even know you have hearing loss. Typically, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
You could be caught by surprise when you start to have difficulty following conversations. And you might be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this happen? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Basically, as you get older, your ears most likely experience repeated damage due to loud noises. The fragile hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) 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 safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is normally permanent.
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less unpleasant!
Tips to make your office party more enjoyable
Your office party presents some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, when you’re in a noisy setting, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time with people who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual signals.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from struggling to hear what’s happening.
- Find a less noisy place to have those conversations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it won’t ever be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication is less effective as your thinking gets blurry. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
Of course, the best possible option is also one of the simplest.: invest in a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and tailored to your specific hearing needs. Even if you go with larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Before the party, get your hearing examined
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. Due to COVID, this might be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!