You get to your company’s yearly 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.
In such a noisy setting, you can’t hear a thing. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all really disorienting. 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 trouble.
This likely sounds familiar for people who suffer from hearing loss. Distinct stressors can be presented 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! You can make it through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and maybe you will even have a good 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 (especially 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: 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 frequently at the same time. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But even dry office parties can be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is generated by this, particularly for individuals who have hearing loss. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. It’s difficult to isolate one voice from many when you’re dealing with 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.
- Indoor events tend to boost the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means anyone with hearing loss will have difficulty hearing and following conversations. This may not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the professional and networking side of things. Even though office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. In any event, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: Holiday parties are the perfect chance to network with employees from other departments or even catch up with co-workers in your own department. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. This can be an excellent opportunity to make connections. But it’s more challenging when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t make out what’s happening because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s always asking people to repeat themselves? Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand for this reason. Even if you ask your friends and family to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s different with co-workers. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation could be damaged. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. No one likes feeling left out.
You may not even realize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger issue. Typically, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you may be surprised that you’re having difficulty following the conversation. And when you notice you’re the only one, you may be even more surprised.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this happen? How do you develop hearing loss? Usually, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will normally take repeated damage from loud noise as you age. The fragile hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
These little hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is usually irreversible.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more pleasant in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. 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 better:
- Have conversations in quieter places: Possibly try sitting on a couch 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.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And it will never be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. You will be capable of filling in information gaps using these contextual signals.
- Refrain from drinking too many cocktails: Communication is less successful as your thinking gets blurry. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much easier.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming completely exhausted from struggling to hear what’s going on.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be tailored 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.
Get your hearing checked before the party
If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the party. Due to 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!