You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you arrive at 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.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
You can’t hear a thing in this loud setting. 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.
For people with hearing loss, this likely sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun affair is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But don’t worry! You can get through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and maybe you will even have a good time.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a distinct mix of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). For people with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties provide some unique 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. This means they are usually fairly noisy affairs, with everybody talking over each other all at once. Could alcohol be a component here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is created by this, especially for people with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s extremely hard to pick out one voice from overlapping conversations.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and other noises. 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 that picking up and following conversations will be challenging for people with hearing loss. At first glance, that may sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Although office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. It’s normally highly encouraged to go to these events so we’ll probably be there. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It isn’t unusual for individuals to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday events. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. You can use this event to forge new connections. But it’s more challenging when you have hearing loss and can’t make out what’s happening because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s constantly asking people to repeat themselves? This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation frequently go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your family and friends to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s different with co-workers. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anyone!
You might not even realize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. The inability to hear well in noisy settings (like restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first signs of hearing loss.
As a result, you might be surprised that you’re having difficulty following the conversation. And you might be even more surprised 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 prevalent causes. Essentially, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated damage as a result of loud noises. The delicate hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
That damage is permanent. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is usually 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
You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy environment? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will most likely never perfect this. But reading lips might be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. In this way, you can avoid becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. You will be able to fill in comprehension gaps using these contextual signals.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thinking starts to get a little blurry, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Find a quieter place to talk with people: 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 quieter.
Of course, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and tailored to your particular hearing needs. Even if you pick larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Before the party, get your hearing examined
That’s why, if you can, it’s a smart idea to have your hearing checked before the office holiday party. Because of COVID, this might be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!