You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you get to the annual company holiday party. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the throbbing beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear a thing in this loud environment. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can anyone be having fun at this thing? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
For individuals with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for someone with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you make it 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 unique combination of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). For those with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties provide some unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. Think about it in this way: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a bit. As a result, they tend to be fairly noisy affairs, with everybody talking over each other all at the same time. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the boisterous side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise generates a certain degree of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. It’s not easy to isolate one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Plenty 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 that hearing and following conversations will be difficult for individuals with hearing loss. At first look, that may sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, even though they are supposed to be social gatherings, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. In any event, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: Holiday parties are the perfect opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own department. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. This can be a fantastic occasion to forge connections. But it’s more challenging when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand what’s going on because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation often go hand-in-hand. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anyone!
This can be even more troublesome because you might not even realize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear clearly in noisy environments (such as restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You could be caught off guard when you start to have trouble following conversations. And when you notice you’re the only one, you might be even more alarmed.
Causes of hearing loss
So what causes this? How does hearing loss happen? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. 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 damaged.
These tiny hairs never heal and can’t be repaired. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. In most cases, this type of hearing loss is permanent (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the damage takes place).
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 pleasant
You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy environment? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. By doing this, you can prevent yourself from becoming completely exhausted from straining to hear what’s happening.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it will never be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thoughts start to get a little fuzzy, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much easier.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more contextual clues you can get, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Find a quieter place to talk with people: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: invest in a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be tailored 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.
Get your hearing tested before the party
That’s why, if possible, it’s a good idea to get your hearing checked before the office holiday party. You might not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to catch you off guard.