You get to your company’s annual holiday party and you’re instantly bombarded by noise. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the throbbing beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
In such a loud environment, you can’t hear a thing. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re completely disoriented. How can this be fun for anyone? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only person having trouble.
For individuals with hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for somebody who is coping 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 maybe even have some fun at the same time).
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties are usually a unique combination of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. For individuals with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties provide some unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prevalent. Think about it like this: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little bit. As a result, they tend to be rather noisy events, with everybody talking over each other all at once. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But even dry office parties can be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is created by this, especially for people who have hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties feature dozens of people all talking over each other. It’s not easy to pick out one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain can’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties such as office parties can make it even more difficult to hear because sound can become amplified.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be challenging for individuals who have hearing loss. At first glance, that may sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking aspect of things is where the big deal is. Although office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. In any event, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to think about:
- 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. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. You can use this event to make new connections. But it’s much harder when you have hearing loss and can’t understand what’s happening because of the overwhelming 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 solitude frequently go hand-in-hand. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. Maybe you’re concerned they will think you’re not competent. 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 challenging because you may not even recognize you have hearing loss. Usually, 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 alarmed that you’re having a hard time following the conversation. And you might be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So what is the cause of this? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Your ears will usually experience repeated damage from loud noise as you get older. The tiny 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 protect your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is normally irreversible.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more comfortable in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
You don’t want to miss out on the fun and opportunities that come along with that office holiday party. So, when you’re in a loud environment, how can you hear better? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. This will help stop you from getting totally exhausted after having to listen really hard.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And you will most likely never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time with people who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. The more context clues you can get, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thoughts start to get a little blurry, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Have conversations in quieter spots: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can block a lot of sound and provide you with a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud ambient noise.
Of course, the best possible solution is also one of the easiest.: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and personalized to your specific hearing needs. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see 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 have your hearing tested before the office holiday 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!