You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you arrive at the annual company holiday party. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the pulsating 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 this be fun for anyone? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only one having difficulty.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this likely sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for somebody with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unharmed (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 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 like this: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a bit. In an environment like this, individuals tend to talk at louder volumes and frequently all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is generated by this, especially for people who have hearing loss. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. It’s difficult to isolate one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a difficult time isolating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor gatherings 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 anybody with hearing loss will have difficulty picking up and following conversations. This may not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, though they are surficially social events, a lot of networking occurs and connections are made. In any event, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: Holiday parties are a great 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 forge new connections. But it’s harder when you have hearing loss and can’t make out what’s going on because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s always asking people to repeat themselves? This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation frequently go hand-in-hand. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. Maybe you’re worried they will think you’re incompetent. And that can harm your work reputation. So perhaps you simply avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
You might not even know that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. Typically, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
You could be caught by surprise when you start to have trouble following conversations. And when you notice you’re the only one, you may be even more alarmed.
Causes of hearing loss
So what causes this? How do you develop hearing loss? Usually, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you get older, your ears most likely experience repeated injury as a consequence of loud noises. The delicate hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
That damage is permanent. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is usually permanent.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more enjoyable in a few ways.
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, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you hear better? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. The more contextual clues you can pick up, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. In this way, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from struggling to hear what’s happening.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And it won’t ever be perfect. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Find a less noisy 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 noise and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud ambient noise.
- 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 effectively. In other words, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the easiest.: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be tailored to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people notice your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Before the party, get your hearing checked
That’s why, if you can, it’s a good idea to have your hearing checked before the office holiday 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.