You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you get to the yearly company holiday party. You can feel the beat of the music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
In such a noisy environment, you can’t hear anything. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re completely disoriented. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only one that seems to be having difficulty.
This likely sounds familiar for individuals who are dealing with hearing loss. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a jolly occasion is nothing more than a dark, solitary event. But don’t worry! You can make it through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and maybe you will even enjoy yourself.
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique blend of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there’s a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prevalent. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little bit. In an environment like this, individuals tend to talk at louder volumes and usually at the same time. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
For those with hearing loss, this noise creates a certain level of interference. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s extremely hard to identify one voice from overlapping conversations.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain can’t always get enough information to pick out voices.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even more difficult to hear because sound can become amplified.
This means anybody with hearing loss will experience difficulty picking up and following conversations. At first look, that might sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking aspect of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, though they are supposed to be social gatherings, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. It’s usually highly encouraged to go to these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: Holiday parties are an ideal opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even catch 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 an excellent opportunity to make connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand because of this. Even if you ask your friends and family to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s different with co-workers. Maybe you’re worried they will think you’re incompetent. And that can damage your work reputation. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anyone!
You may not even know that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. The inability to hear well in noisy environments (like restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You could be caught by surprise when you start to have difficulty following conversations. And you might be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this happen? How does hearing loss happen? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Your ears will usually experience repeated damage from loud noise as you age. The delicate hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
These tiny hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is usually permanent.
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less unpleasant!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
You don’t want to miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. So, you’re thinking: how can I improve my hearing in a noisy environment? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Avoid drinking too many cocktails: Communication will be less effective as your thinking gets fuzzy. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Find a quieter place to talk with people: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time with people who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. The more contextual clues you can get, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But reading lips may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. This will help stop you from getting totally exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if you opt for larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Get your hearing checked before the party
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. Because of COVID, this might be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!