You arrive at your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re immediately assaulted by noise. 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.
In such a noisy environment, you can’t hear a thing. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re completely disoriented. How can anybody be having fun at this thing? 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 most likely sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for somebody who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unscathed (and maybe even have some fun while you’re at it).
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties can be a unique combination 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 have distinct 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. In a setting like this, individuals tend to talk at louder volumes and usually at the same time. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But even dry office parties can be a little on the boisterous side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise creates a certain level of interference. That’s because:
- Office parties feature dozens of people all talking simultaneously. It’s not easy to pick out one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a hard time isolating 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 anybody with hearing loss will have difficulty hearing and following conversations. At first glance, that may sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the professional and networking side of things. Office holiday parties, even though they are surficially social gatherings, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. At any rate, attendance is often 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 section. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. You can use this event to forge new connections. But it’s much harder when you have hearing loss and can’t understand what’s going on because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s always asking people to repeat themselves? This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation frequently go hand-in-hand. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. Maybe you’re concerned they will think you’re not competent. Your reputation could be damaged. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
You may not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. Usually, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
You could be caught off guard 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 occur? How does hearing loss happen? Most commonly, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will normally take repeated injury from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become compromised.
These little hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is typically permanent.
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 offers some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a noisy environment, how can you hear better? You can make that office party smoother and more enjoyable with these tips:
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time hanging around people who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. The more contextual clues you can get, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- 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. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from getting completely exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can block a lot of sound and give you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud background noise.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And it will never be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and customized to your particular hearing needs. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people notice your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
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!