You arrive at your company’s annual holiday party and you’re immediately bombarded by noise. 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.
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 completely disoriented. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only person having trouble.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a fun affair 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 perhaps you will even have a good time.
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties are usually a unique blend of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is especially true) even if your hearing is healthy. For people who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties introduce 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 a setting like this, individuals have the tendency to talk at higher volumes and frequently at the same time. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
For those with hearing loss, this noise creates a certain degree of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. 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.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even more difficult to hear because sound tends to become amplified.
This means that picking up and following conversations will be difficult for people who have hearing loss. This may not sound like a very big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the professional and networking side of things. Even though office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. It’s usually highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It isn’t unusual for people to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. This can be an excellent opportunity to make connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s always asking people to repeat themselves? Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand because of this. Even if you ask your friends and family to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s not the same with co-workers. Maybe you’re worried they will think you’re not competent. And that can damage your work reputation. 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 might not even know you have hearing loss. The inability to hear well in noisy environments (like restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first indications of hearing loss.
As a result, you may be alarmed that you’re having a hard time following the conversation. 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 prevalent causes. Essentially, as you get older, your ears likely experience repeated injury as a result of loud noises. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become compromised.
That damage is permanent. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. Your best bet will be to safeguard 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 little 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 are part of that office holiday party. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy setting? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it will never be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Refrain from drinking too many cocktails: Communication is less effective as your thinking gets blurry. In other words, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much smoother.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more contextual clues you can get, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Find a quieter place to talk with people: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. This will help prevent you from getting completely exhausted after having to listen really hard.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: invest in a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and personalized to your specific hearing needs. Even if you go with larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Before the party, get your hearing checked
If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the party. Because of COVID, this might be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!