You get to your company’s annual holiday party and you’re instantly assaulted by noise. You can feel the beat of the music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear anything in this noisy environment. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all very disorienting. 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 individuals with 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! You can get through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and perhaps you will even enjoy yourself.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties are usually a unique mix of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is especially true) even if your hearing is healthy. If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with distinct stressors.
Most notable is the noise. To put it into perspective: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. This means they are usually rather noisy events, with lots of people talking over each other all at the same time. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise creates a certain level of interference. That’s because:
- Office parties include tons of people all talking over each other. It’s difficult to isolate one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clanking 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 anyone with hearing loss will experience 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 aspect of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, even though they are surficially social gatherings, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. It’s normally 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’s not unusual for individuals 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. You can use this event to forge new connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can become challenging to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. This is one reason why hearing loss and solitude frequently go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your friends and family to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s different with colleagues. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. No one likes feeling left out.
This can be even more challenging because you might not even recognize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear well in noisy settings (such as restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You could be caught by surprise when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And when you notice you’re the only one, you may be even more concerned.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this happen? How do you develop hearing loss? Usually, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will typically experience repeated damage from loud noise as you age. The tiny hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
That injury is permanent. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. In most circumstances, hearing loss like this is permanent (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the injury happens).
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less unpleasant!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party presents some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a noisy environment, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time hanging around people who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be able to fill in comprehension gaps using these contextual clues.
- Find a less noisy place to have those conversations: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thinking starts to get a little blurry, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. Simply put, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And you will most likely never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: invest in 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.
Before the party, get your hearing tested
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. Due to COVID, this may be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!