You get to your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re immediately assaulted by noise. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the pulsating beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
You can’t hear anything in this noisy setting. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all extremely disorienting. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
This likely sounds familiar for people who are dealing with hearing loss. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a jolly affair is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But don’t worry! You can get through the next holiday party without difficulty 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 unique blend of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). For those 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 prominent. To put it into perspective: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. This means they are usually rather noisy affairs, with everybody talking over each other all at the same time. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
For those with hearing loss, this noise generates a certain degree of interference. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s really hard to select one voice among overlapping discussions.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a difficult time separating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor events tend to magnify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means anybody with hearing loss will experience difficulty picking up and following conversations. This might not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, though they are supposed to be social gatherings, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. In any event, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: Holiday parties are a great chance to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own department. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. This can be a good occasion to make connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can be hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand because of this. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. Maybe you’re worried they will think you’re incompetent. Your reputation could be compromised. So maybe you just avoid interaction instead. No one enjoys feeling left out.
This can be even more troublesome because you might not even know you have hearing loss. Typically, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
You may be caught by surprise when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you may be even more surprised.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this take place? How does hearing loss develop? Usually, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Basically, as you get older, your ears most likely experience repeated injury as a consequence of loud noises. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become compromised.
That damage is permanent. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing becomes. In most instances, this type of hearing loss is irreversible (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the injury happens).
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more comfortable in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more fun
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? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming completely exhausted from struggling to hear what’s happening.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time hanging around individuals who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. The more contextual clues you can pick up, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication is less successful as your thinking gets fuzzy. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Find a quieter place to have those conversations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly less loud.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if you go with larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Before the party, get your hearing checked
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. Because of COVID, this may be your first holiday party in a few years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!