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 pulsating beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear anything in this loud setting. You can’t keep up with 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 as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only one having trouble.
This probably sounds familiar for people who suffer from hearing loss. Distinct stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for a person with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But don’t worry! 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 can be a unique blend of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. For individuals with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties introduce some unique stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. Think about it like this: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little. In a setting like this, people tend to talk at higher volumes and usually all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can be a little on the boisterous side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise generates a certain level of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties feature lots of people all talking over each other. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s really hard to pick out one voice among overlapping conversations.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- Indoor events tend to amplify 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 have trouble hearing and following conversations. At first glance, that may sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the professional and networking aspect of things. Although office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. In any event, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- 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. 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 when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can become 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. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can damage your work reputation. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You may not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. 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 difficult time following the conversation. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more surprised.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this occur? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Essentially, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated injury as a result of loud noises. The delicate hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
That damage is permanent. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that die. In most circumstances, hearing loss like this is permanent (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the damage happens).
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less uncomfortable!
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, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy setting? You can make that office party smoother and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time hanging around individuals who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be capable of filling in comprehension gaps using these contextual signals.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming completely exhausted from struggling to hear what’s going on.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And it will never be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Refrain from drinking too many adult beverages: Communication is less effective as your thinking gets fuzzy. Simply put, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much smoother.
- Find a less noisy place to talk with people: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly less loud.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and tailored to your specific hearing needs. 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
That’s why, if possible, it’s a good idea to have your hearing assessed before the office holiday 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 inability to hear!