You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you arrive at the yearly company holiday party. You can feel the beat of the music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
In such a noisy setting, you can’t hear a thing. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anybody be having fun at this thing? But then you look around and see that you’re the only one that seems to be having difficulty.
This probably sounds familiar for people who are dealing with hearing loss. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But have no fear! You can make it through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and maybe you will even enjoy yourself.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties are usually a unique blend 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 come with unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prominent. Think about it like this: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little bit. In a setting like this, individuals tend to talk at louder volumes and often all at once. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is generated by this, especially for people who have hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s extremely difficult to identify one voice among overlapping discussions.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain doesn’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 tends to become amplified.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be challenging for individuals with hearing loss. At first look, that may sound like a minor 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 occurs and connections are made. 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 the perfect opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own department. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. This can be a good occasion to forge connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s constantly asking people to repeat what they said? This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation frequently go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your family and friends to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s different with colleagues. Maybe you’re concerned they will think you’re incompetent. And that can damage your work reputation. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. No one likes feeling left out.
This can be even more troublesome because you might not even recognize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear well in noisy settings (such as restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first indications of hearing loss.
You may be caught by surprise when you start to have difficulty following conversations. And you may be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss happen? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Essentially, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated injury due to loud noises. The fragile hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
That injury is permanent. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. In most instances, hearing loss like this is permanent (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the damage happens).
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more pleasant in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that come along with that office holiday party. So, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of sound and give you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud ambient noise.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication will be less successful as your thinking gets fuzzy. Simply put, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much smoother.
- 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.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. 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: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. This will help stop you from getting completely exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
Naturally, the best possible option is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. Even if you go with larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Get your hearing tested before the party
If possible, take 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 sneak up and surprise you.