You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you arrive at the annual company holiday party. You can feel the pumping music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
You can’t hear a thing in this loud setting. 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 one having difficulty.
This probably sounds familiar for individuals who are dealing with hearing loss. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dark, lonely event. But have no fear! You can make it through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and maybe you will even have a good time.
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique combination of stress and fun (particularly 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. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little bit. As a result, they tend to be rather noisy affairs, with everyone talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the boisterous side.
For those with hearing loss, this noise generates a certain degree of interference. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. It’s difficult to isolate one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a hard time separating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor events tend to magnify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means anyone with hearing loss will experience difficulty picking up and following conversations. At first glance, that may sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the networking and professional aspect of things. Although office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. At any rate, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It isn’t uncommon for people to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. This can be a fantastic chance 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: Most individuals are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation often go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your family and friends to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s not the same with co-workers. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation could be damaged. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. 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 issue. The inability to hear well in noisy environments (like restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You may be caught by surprise when you begin to have trouble following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you may be even more alarmed.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this take place? How does hearing loss develop? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Essentially, as you get older, your ears most likely experience repeated damage as a result of loud noises. The delicate hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
That injury is permanent. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that die. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is normally permanent.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more pleasant in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party offers some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a loud environment, how can you hear better? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable with these tips:
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it won’t ever be perfect. But reading lips may be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Avoid drinking too many cocktails: If your thoughts start to get a little blurry, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. The whole thing will be much easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming completely exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can block a lot of noise and provide you with a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud background noise.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more context clues you can get, the more you can fill in any gaps.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if you pick larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Get your hearing checked before the party
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. Due to COVID, this may be your first holiday party in a few years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!