You get to your company’s annual holiday party and you’re immediately bombarded by noise. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the pulsating beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear a thing in this loud environment. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re totally disoriented. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only one having trouble.
For individuals with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for somebody who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But don’t worry! You can get through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and perhaps 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 distinct mix 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 come with distinct 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 a setting like this, people have the tendency to talk at louder volumes and usually at the same time. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But even dry office parties can be a little on the boisterous side.
For those with hearing loss, this noise creates a certain amount of interference. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to identify one voice from overlapping conversations.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- Indoor events tend to boost the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you are dealing with hearing loss.
This means that picking up and following conversations will be challenging for individuals who have hearing loss. At first look, that might sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Although office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. It’s normally highly encouraged to go to these events so we’ll probably be there. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: Holiday parties are a great opportunity 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. You can use this event to forge new connections. But it’s more challenging 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 constantly asking people to repeat themselves? Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand because of this. Even if you ask your family and friends to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation may be compromised. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You may not even know that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. Usually, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
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 surprised.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this happen? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Your ears will usually take repeated injury from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be healed. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing becomes. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is typically permanent.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more comfortable in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party presents some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy setting? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Find a less noisy place to talk with people: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the background noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming completely exhausted from straining to hear what’s happening.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication is less successful as your thinking gets blurry. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And you will most likely never perfect this. But reading lips may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. The more context clues you can get, the more you can make up for any gaps.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and tailored to your specific hearing needs. Even if you opt for larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Before the party, get your hearing checked
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. You may not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to catch you off guard.