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.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
You can’t hear anything in this loud setting. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can anyone be enjoying this thing? But then you look around and see that you’re the only one that seems to be having difficulty.
For individuals with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dark, solitary event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unharmed (and perhaps even have some fun while you’re at it).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique mix 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. To put it into perspective: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. As a result, they tend to be fairly noisy events, with everyone talking over each other all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. 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. That’s because:
- Office parties include lots of people all talking over each other. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s very difficult to pick out one voice among overlapping conversations.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even harder to hear because sound can become amplified.
This means anybody with hearing loss will experience trouble picking up and following conversations. This might not sound like a very big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking aspect of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, even though they are supposed to be social events, a lot of networking occurs 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 consider:
- You can network: It’s not unusual for individuals to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. You can use this event to make new connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can be challenging to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s constantly 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 co-workers. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm 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 anyone!
This can be even more problematic because you might 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 may be surprised that you’re having difficulty following the conversation. And you might be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So what is the cause of this? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Your ears will normally experience repeated injury from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
These little hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing becomes. In most instances, this type of hearing loss is irreversible (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the injury takes place).
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 really want to go. So, when you’re in a noisy environment, how can you hear better? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable with these tips:
- 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 make up for any gaps.
- 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.
- Avoid drinking too many adult beverages: Communication is less successful as your thinking gets fuzzy. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can block a lot of noise and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud background noise.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And you will most likely never perfect this. But reading lips may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and tailored 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.
Before the party, get your hearing checked
That’s why, if possible, it’s a smart idea to get your hearing checked before the office holiday party. Due to COVID, this may be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!