You’re assaulted 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.
You can’t hear a thing in this noisy environment. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all really disorienting. How can this be fun for anyone? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having difficulty.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this likely sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for a person who is coping 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 maybe even have some fun at the same 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). If you struggle to hear when there’s a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prevalent. Think about it in this way: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little. This means they are usually fairly noisy affairs, with everyone talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a component here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can be a little on the boisterous side.
Some interference is produced by this, especially for people with hearing loss. That’s because:
- Office parties feature dozens of people all talking simultaneously. 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 can’t always get enough information to pick out voices.
- Indoor events tend to amplify 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. At first glimpse, that might sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Although office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. It’s normally highly encouraged to go to these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: It’s not unusual for people to network with colleagues 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 an excellent opportunity to make connections. But it’s more challenging when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand what’s going on because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s always asking people to repeat what they said? Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand for this reason. Even if you ask your friends and family to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. Perhaps you’re concerned they will think you’re not competent. Your reputation could be compromised. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
This can be even more troublesome because you may not even know you have hearing loss. Usually, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you might be surprised that you’re having a tough time following the conversation. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more surprised.
Hearing loss causes
So what causes this? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Your ears will usually experience repeated damage from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (fragile hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become damaged.
That injury is permanent. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that die. In most instances, this type of hearing loss is irreversible (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the injury happens).
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more comfortable in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party presents some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you improve your ability to hear? You can make that office party smoother and more enjoyable with these tips:
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And it will never be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can block a lot of noise and give you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud ambient noise.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. You will be capable of filling in comprehension gaps using these contextual signals.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. In this way, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from struggling to hear what’s going on.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication will be less effective as your thinking gets blurry. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Before the party, get your hearing tested
That’s why, if possible, it’s a smart idea to have your hearing tested before the office holiday party. You might not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to sneak up and surprise you.