You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you get to the annual 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.
You can’t hear a thing in this noisy setting. 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 see that you’re the only one that seems to be having difficulty.
This most likely sounds familiar for individuals who suffer from hearing loss. Unique stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for someone with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unharmed (and perhaps even have some fun at the same time).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a distinct combination of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). For those with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties provide some unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prominent. Think about it in this way: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In an environment like this, people tend to talk at louder volumes and often at the same time. Could alcohol be a component here? Yes, yes it can. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
For those with hearing loss, this noise creates a certain amount of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties feature dozens of people all talking over each other. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s really difficult to select one voice from overlapping conversations.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and other noises. Your brain has a hard time isolating 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 anybody with hearing loss will have difficulty picking up and following conversations. At first glance, that may sound like a minor thing.
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 surficially social events, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. It’s normally highly encouraged to go to these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to think about:
- 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 section. 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 have hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand for this reason. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So perhaps you simply avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anyone!
You might not even realize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. Typically, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you may be surprised that you’re having a difficult time following the conversation. And when you notice you’re the only one, you might be even more alarmed.
Hearing loss causes
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss develop? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Your ears will normally experience repeated injury from loud noise as you age. The fragile hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
These tiny hairs never heal and can’t be healed. 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 protecting your hearing before the damage happens).
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
You don’t want to miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy environment? You can make that office party smoother and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And it won’t ever be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. By doing this, you can avoid becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
- Refrain from drinking too many adult beverages: Communication will be less effective as your thinking gets fuzzy. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more contextual clues you can pick up, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of noise and give you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud background noise.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if you opt for larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Get your hearing checked before the party
If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the party. Because of COVID, this may be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!