You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you arrive at the yearly company holiday party. 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 setting, you can’t hear a thing. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re completely disoriented. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
For individuals with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. Distinct 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 have no fear! You can make it through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and maybe you will even enjoy yourself.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
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 have unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. Think about it in this way: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little. In an environment like this, individuals tend to talk at louder volumes and frequently all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is created by this, particularly for individuals who have hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s very difficult to select one voice from overlapping conversations.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a difficult time separating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor events tend to magnify 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 experience difficulty hearing and following conversations. This may not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the professional and networking aspect of things. Office holiday parties, though they are surficially social events, a lot of networking occurs and connections are made. At any rate, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. 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. You can use this event to make new connections. But it’s harder when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand what’s happening because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand because of this. 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 incompetent. And that can damage your work reputation. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. No one enjoys feeling left out.
This can be even more troublesome because you may not even know you have hearing loss. The inability to hear clearly in noisy environments (like restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first indications of hearing loss.
As a result, you may be alarmed that you’re having a tough time following the conversation. And when you notice you’re the only one, you might be even more concerned.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this happen? How does hearing loss develop? Usually, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you get older, your ears likely experience repeated damage as a consequence of loud noises. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become compromised.
These little 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 usually permanent.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more pleasant in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more enjoyable
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 noisy setting, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication is less effective as your thinking gets fuzzy. The whole thing will be much easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And it won’t ever be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- 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.
- Find a less noisy place to have those conversations: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. By doing this, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from struggling to hear what’s happening.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Before the party, get your hearing checked
If possible, take 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!