You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you arrive at the annual company holiday party. 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 noisy environment, you can’t hear a thing. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re completely disoriented. How can this be fun for anyone? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But have no fear! You can get through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and perhaps you will even have a good time.
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
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 distinct stressors.
The noise itself is the most prevalent. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little bit. In a setting like this, individuals tend to talk at louder volumes and often at the same time. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is created by this, particularly for individuals with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. It’s difficult to pick out one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties such as office parties can make it even harder 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 might sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the networking and professional aspect of things. Office holiday parties, though they are surficially social gatherings, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. It’s usually highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: Holiday parties are an ideal opportunity 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. This can be an excellent occasion to forge connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can be hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation frequently go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your friends and family to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s not the same with co-workers. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation may be compromised. So maybe you just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
This can be even more challenging because you might not even recognize you have hearing loss. Usually, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you may be surprised that you’re having a hard time following the conversation. And you might be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this take place? How does hearing loss develop? Usually, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will normally experience repeated injury from loud noise as you get older. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
That damage is permanent. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that die. In most cases, hearing loss like this is permanent (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the damage occurs).
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more fun
Your office party offers some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a noisy environment, how can you improve your ability to hear? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. The more contextual clues you can pick up, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Refrain from drinking too many adult beverages: If your thoughts start to get a little blurry, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. In other words, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot easier.
- 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.
- Have conversations in quieter spots: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it won’t ever be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be tailored to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people notice 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. 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!