You get to your company’s yearly 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.
In such a loud environment, you can’t hear anything. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all extremely disorienting. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
For people with hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for a person with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But have no fear! You can get through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and maybe you will even enjoy yourself.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties are usually a unique mix of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. 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 prominent. Think about it in this way: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little bit. As a result, they tend to be rather noisy events, with lots of people talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can be a little on the boisterous side.
Some interference is produced by this, particularly for people with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties feature tons of people all talking over each other. It’s not easy to pick out one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a hard time isolating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor gatherings tend to boost 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 individuals 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 networking and professional aspect of things. Although office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. At any rate, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to think about:
- You can network: Holiday parties are a great opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even catch up with co-workers in your own section. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. This can be a fantastic opportunity to make connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming 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? 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 colleagues are a different story. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. No one enjoys feeling left out.
This can be even more problematic because you may not even realize you have hearing loss. 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 may be caught by surprise when you begin to have trouble following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more surprised.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this happen? How does hearing loss develop? Usually, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, 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 compromised.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be healed. And the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, the worse your hearing becomes. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is normally irreversible.
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 offers some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. 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 smoother:
- Find a less noisy place to talk with people: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of noise and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud background noise.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And you will probably never perfect this. But reading lips may be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication is less effective as your thinking gets blurry. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from getting totally exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time hanging around people who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be able to fill in comprehension gaps using these contextual signals.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and customized to your specific hearing needs. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing checked before the party
That’s why, if you can, it’s a smart idea to get your hearing checked 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.