You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you get to the yearly company holiday party. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the throbbing beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
It makes you miserable.
In such a loud environment, you can’t hear anything. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re completely disoriented. How can this be fun for anyone? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having difficulty.
This likely sounds familiar for individuals who are dealing with hearing loss. Unique stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for someone with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But don’t worry! You can get through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and maybe you will even have a good time.
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique mix of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). For individuals with 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: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little bit. As a result, they tend to be rather noisy events, with everyone talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a factor here? absolutely. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the boisterous side.
Some interference is created by this, particularly for people who have hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties include dozens of people all talking simultaneously. It’s not easy 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 difficult 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 hearing and following conversations will be difficult for people who have hearing loss. At first look, that may sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the networking and professional aspect of things. Although office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. In any event, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to think about:
- You can network: It isn’t unusual for individuals to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. You can use this event to forge new connections. But it’s harder when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand what’s going on because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. This is one reason why hearing loss and solitude frequently go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your family and friends to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. Maybe you’re concerned they will think you’re not competent. And that can damage your work reputation. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. No one likes feeling left out.
This can be even more problematic because you may not even realize you have hearing loss. Typically, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you might be alarmed that you’re having a hard time following the conversation. And you might be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this happen? How do you develop hearing loss? Most commonly, it’s caused by age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Basically, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated injury as a consequence of loud noises. The tiny hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that die. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is typically permanent.
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less uncomfortable!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that come along with that office holiday party. So, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. By doing this, you can avoid becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. The more contextual clues you can get, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of sound and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud background noise.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thoughts start 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.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And it will never be perfect. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
Naturally, the best possible option is also one of the simplest.: invest in a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. 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 examined
That’s why, if possible, it’s a good idea to get your hearing assessed before the office holiday party. Because of COVID, this may be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!