You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you get to the annual company holiday party. You can feel the beat of the music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
In such a noisy environment, you can’t hear anything. 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 fun for anyone? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only one that seems to be having difficulty.
This most likely sounds familiar for individuals who suffer from hearing loss. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dark, solitary event. But don’t worry! You can make it through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and perhaps 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 distinct combination 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 distinct 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. In a setting like this, people have the tendency to talk at louder volumes and frequently all at once. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But even dry office parties can be a little on the boisterous side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise generates a certain degree of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. It’s difficult to pick out one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and so on. 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 harder to hear because sound tends to become amplified.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be difficult for individuals with hearing loss. This might not sound like a very big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the professional and networking aspect of things. Office holiday parties, even though they are supposed to be 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 think about:
- You can network: Holiday parties are the perfect chance to network with employees from other departments or even catch up with co-workers in your own section. 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 have hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can be challenging to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand for this reason. Asking friends and family 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 likes feeling left out.
You may not even know that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. Typically, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
You could be caught by surprise when you start to have trouble following conversations. And you might be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So what causes this? How does hearing loss happen? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Your ears will normally take repeated injury from loud noise as you age. The fragile hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
That damage is permanent. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. In most circumstances, this type of hearing loss is irreversible (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the damage occurs).
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more fun
You don’t want to miss out on the fun and opportunities that come along with that office holiday party. So, when you’re in a noisy environment, how can you hear better? You can make that office party smoother and more enjoyable with these tips:
- Find a less noisy place to have those conversations: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from getting totally exhausted after having to listen really hard.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But reading lips might be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time with people who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. The more context clues you can pick up, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Refrain from drinking too many cocktails: If your thinking starts to get a little blurry, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. The whole thing will be much easier if you go easy on the drinking.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a set 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.
Before the party, get your hearing tested
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. Due to COVID, this might be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!