You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you arrive at the annual company holiday party. 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.
You can’t hear anything in this noisy environment. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re completely disoriented. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only person having trouble.
For people with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a jolly occasion is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But have no fear! You can make it through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and perhaps you will even have a good time.
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties can be a unique mix of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. For individuals who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties present some unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prevalent. Think about it in this way: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In an environment like this, people have the tendency to talk at higher volumes and often at the same time. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But even dry office parties can be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is generated by this, particularly for people with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties feature tons of people all talking simultaneously. 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 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 anyone with hearing loss will have difficulty hearing and following conversations. This might not sound like a very big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking aspect of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, though they are supposed to be social gatherings, a lot of networking takes place 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 consider:
- You can network: It isn’t unusual for people to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday events. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. This can be a good occasion to forge connections. But it’s more challenging when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t make out what’s happening because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s always asking people to repeat what they said? Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand because of this. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. Perhaps you’re concerned they will think you’re incompetent. And that can harm your work reputation. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You might not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. The inability to hear well in noisy environments (like restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first indications of hearing loss.
You could be caught by surprise when you start to have trouble following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more alarmed.
Causes of hearing loss
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss develop? Usually, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will typically experience repeated injury from loud noise as you get older. The stereocilia (fragile hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become damaged.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. In most circumstances, hearing loss like this is irreversible (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the injury takes place).
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
Your office party presents some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy setting? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from getting completely exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Have conversations in quieter places: 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 more clearly during loud background noise.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And it won’t ever be perfect. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time hanging around individuals who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual clues.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication will be less effective as your thinking gets fuzzy. Simply put, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much easier.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and tailored 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.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
That’s why, if you can, it’s a smart idea to get 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!