You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you get to the annual 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.
You can’t hear anything in this noisy environment. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can anybody be enjoying this thing? But then you look around and see that you’re the only one that seems to be having trouble.
For people with hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for a person who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unscathed (and perhaps even have some fun at the same time).
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique combination of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties have unique stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little. In an environment like this, individuals tend to talk at higher volumes and often all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? absolutely. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
For those with hearing loss, this noise generates a certain level of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties include tons of people all talking over each other. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s really hard to select one voice from overlapping conversations.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and other noises. Your brain has a hard time separating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor gatherings tend to amplify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher on your ears when you are dealing with hearing loss.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be challenging for individuals who have hearing loss. This may not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the networking and professional side of things. Office holiday parties, even though they are supposed to be social events, a lot of networking occurs 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 uncommon for people to network with co-workers 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. This can be a fantastic occasion to make connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overpowering 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 themselves? This is one reason why hearing loss and solitude 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 maybe you just avoid interaction instead. No one enjoys feeling left out.
This can be even more problematic because you might not even realize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear well in noisy environments (such as restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first indications 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 might be even more surprised.
Hearing loss causes
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss develop? Most commonly, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will usually experience repeated damage from loud noise as you get older. The tiny hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
These tiny hairs never 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 protect your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is typically permanent.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more enjoyable in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more fun
You don’t want to miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. So, when you’re in a loud environment, how can you hear better? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s happening.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it won’t ever be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- 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 give you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud background noise.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. You will be capable of filling in comprehension gaps using these contextual signals.
- Refrain from drinking too many adult beverages: If your thinking starts to get a little fuzzy, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. Simply put, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much easier.
Of course, the best possible solution is also one of the easiest.: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. 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
If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the 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.