You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you get to the annual company holiday party. You can feel the pumping music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
In such a loud setting, you can’t hear a thing. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all extremely disorienting. How can anybody be having fun at this thing? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only person having trouble.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this likely sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for somebody with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark 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).
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 come with distinct stressors.
The noise itself is the most prominent. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little bit. In an environment like this, people tend to talk at higher volumes and usually all at once. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is created by this, particularly for individuals with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s really difficult to select one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and other noises. Your brain has a difficult time separating voices from all of this information.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties such as office parties can make it even harder to hear because sound tends to become amplified.
This means anybody with hearing loss will have trouble hearing and following conversations. This may not sound like a very big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, though they are surficially social events, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. In any event, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: It isn’t unusual for people to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. You can use this event to forge new connections. But it’s much harder when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand what’s happening because of the overwhelming noise.
- 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 because of this. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. Maybe you’re concerned they will think you’re incompetent. And that can harm your work reputation. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
You might not even realize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. The inability to hear clearly in noisy environments (like restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You may be caught off guard when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And when you notice you’re the only one, you may be even more alarmed.
Causes of hearing loss
So what causes this? How does hearing loss develop? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Basically, as you age, your ears likely experience repeated injury as a result of loud noises. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become compromised.
These tiny hairs never heal and can’t be repaired. 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.
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less unpleasant!
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
Your office party offers some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, when you’re in a noisy environment, how can you hear better? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And you will probably never perfect this. But reading lips might be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time with individuals who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual signals.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication is less successful as your thinking gets fuzzy. Simply put, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming completely exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized 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.
Get your hearing tested before the party
That’s why, if possible, it’s a good idea to get your hearing tested 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.