You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you arrive at the annual company holiday party. You can feel the beat of the music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear a thing in this loud setting. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re totally disoriented. 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 who suffer from hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But don’t worry! You can make it through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and maybe you will even enjoy yourself.
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a distinct combination of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). For individuals who have 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 in this way: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. This means they tend to be rather noisy affairs, with everyone talking over each other all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? absolutely. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise creates a certain amount of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s really hard to identify one voice among overlapping discussions.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a difficult time separating voices from all of this information.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even harder to hear because sound tends to become amplified.
This means anyone with hearing loss will experience trouble picking up and following conversations. 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. Office holiday parties, though they are surficially social events, a lot of networking occurs and connections are made. At any rate, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. 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 events. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. This can be a fantastic chance to forge connections. But it’s harder when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand what’s going on because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand for this reason. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation may be damaged. So maybe you simply avoid interaction instead. 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 realize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear well in noisy settings (such as restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You may be caught by surprise when you start 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 occur? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Basically, as you get older, your ears likely experience repeated damage as a consequence of loud noises. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
These tiny hairs never heal and can’t be healed. 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 kind of hearing loss is normally irreversible.
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 pleasant
Your office party offers some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy environment? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from getting totally exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Try to read lips: You will improve 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.
- Refrain from drinking too many adult beverages: If your thinking starts to get a little fuzzy, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. You will be capable of filling in information gaps using these contextual signals.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of sound and provide you with 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 yourself a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and customized to your particular hearing needs. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people notice your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
That’s why, if possible, it’s a smart idea to get your hearing assessed 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.