You arrive at your company’s annual holiday party and you’re instantly bombarded by noise. 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.
You can’t hear a thing in this loud environment. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all extremely disorienting. How can this be fun for anyone? But then you look around and see that you’re the only person that seems to be having difficulty.
This likely sounds familiar for people who are dealing with hearing loss. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dark, 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 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). For people who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties provide some unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prevalent. Think about it in this way: 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 frequently at the same time. Alcohol can definitely play a part. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
For those with hearing loss, this noise creates a certain degree of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. It’s not easy to pick out one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and other noises. 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 harder on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means anybody with hearing loss will have difficulty picking up and following conversations. At first look, that might sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the networking and professional aspect of things. Office holiday parties, even though they are supposed to be social gatherings, 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 chance to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own section. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. You can use this event to forge new connections. But it’s much harder when you have hearing loss and can’t understand what’s going on because of the overwhelming noise.
- 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 solitude often go hand-in-hand. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can damage your work reputation. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. No one enjoys feeling left out.
This can be even more troublesome because you might not even realize 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 alarmed that you’re having a hard time following the conversation. And when you notice you’re the only one, you may be even more concerned.
Hearing loss causes
So what causes this? How do you develop hearing loss? Usually, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will usually experience repeated damage from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (fragile hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become compromised.
That injury is permanent. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. In most instances, this type of hearing loss is irreversible (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the damage takes place).
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more pleasant in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party presents some significant 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 better:
- Find a quieter place to have those conversations: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can block a lot of noise and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud background noise.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And it won’t ever be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s happening.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. You will be able to fill in comprehension gaps using these contextual clues.
- Avoid drinking too many adult beverages: If your thinking starts to get a little blurry, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much smoother.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the easiest.: invest in a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and personalized to your specific hearing needs. Even if you pick larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Before the party, get your hearing tested
That’s why, if possible, it’s a smart idea to have your hearing checked before the office holiday party. Due to COVID, this might be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!