You arrive at your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re instantly assaulted by noise. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the pulsating beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
It makes you miserable.
In such a loud environment, you can’t hear a thing. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re totally 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.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a fun affair is nothing more than a dark, solitary event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unscathed (and perhaps even have some fun at the same time).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
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 is a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with distinct stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. Think about it like this: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little bit. In an environment like this, individuals have the tendency to talk at higher volumes and often all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can be a little on the boisterous side.
Some interference is created by this, especially for individuals who have hearing loss. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to identify one voice from overlapping conversations.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain has a hard time isolating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor gatherings tend to magnify 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 picking up and following conversations will be challenging for individuals who have hearing loss. This might 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. Even though office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. At any rate, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It isn’t uncommon for individuals to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday events. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. You can use this event to forge new connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can become 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 often go hand-in-hand. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation could be damaged. So maybe you just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anyone!
This can be even more troublesome because you may not even know you have hearing loss. The inability to hear well in noisy settings (such as restaurants or office parties) is usually 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 observe you’re the only one, you might be even more concerned.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this happen? How does hearing loss develop? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Your ears will typically take repeated damage from loud noise as you age. The fragile hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
These little hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that die. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is usually 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 really want to go. So, when you’re in a loud environment, how can you hear better? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Have conversations in quieter locations: 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.
- Refrain from drinking too many adult beverages: Communication will be less successful as your thinking gets fuzzy. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. By doing this, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time with people who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be able to fill in comprehension gaps using these contextual signals.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. Even if you opt for larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Before the party, get your hearing tested
That’s why, if you can, it’s a good idea to have your hearing checked before the office holiday party. Because of COVID, this might be your first holiday party in a few years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!