You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you get to the yearly company holiday party. You can feel the beat of the music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
In such a noisy environment, you can’t hear a thing. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all really disorienting. How can this be fun for anyone? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only person having difficulty.
For people with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a jolly affair is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unscathed (and maybe even have some fun while you’re at it).
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique blend 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 have unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little. In a setting like this, people have the tendency to talk at higher volumes and frequently all at once. Could alcohol be a component here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
For those with hearing loss, this noise generates a certain degree of interference. That’s because:
- Office parties feature dozens of people all talking simultaneously. 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, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain has a difficult time isolating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor gatherings tend to amplify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you are dealing with hearing loss.
This means anybody with hearing loss will have trouble picking up and following conversations. This might not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the professional and networking aspect of things. Office holiday parties, even though they are surficially social gatherings, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. It’s usually highly encouraged to go to these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: Holiday parties are the perfect chance to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own department. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. This can be a fantastic chance to forge connections. But when you have 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 always asking people to repeat themselves? This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation frequently go hand-in-hand. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You may not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. The inability to hear clearly in noisy settings (such as restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You could be caught by surprise when you begin to have trouble following conversations. And you may be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So what causes this? How do you develop hearing loss? Typically, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). 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 damage is permanent. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. 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 little more enjoyable in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more fun
Your office party offers some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you hear better? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will most likely never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from getting completely exhausted after having to listen really hard.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication is less effective as your thinking gets blurry. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot easier.
- 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 pick up, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Find a quieter place to have those conversations: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can block a lot of sound and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud ambient noise.
Of course, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and tailored to your specific hearing needs. Even if you go with larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. You may not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to catch you off guard.