You get to your company’s annual holiday party and you’re instantly bombarded by noise. You can feel the beat of the music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
You can’t hear a thing in this loud setting. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re completely disoriented. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only person having difficulty.
This most likely sounds familiar for people who suffer from hearing loss. Unique stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for a person who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark 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.
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 those who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties present some unique stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little bit. As a result, they are usually fairly noisy events, with everyone talking over each other all at once. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the boisterous side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise creates a certain degree of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties include lots of people all talking over each other. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to identify one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain can’t always get enough information to pick out voices.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even harder to hear because sound can become amplified.
This means anyone with hearing loss will have trouble picking up and following conversations. At first glimpse, that might sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the professional and networking aspect of things. Although office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. It’s usually highly encouraged to go to these events so we’ll probably be there. 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 meet up with co-workers in your own section. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. This can be a good chance to forge connections. But it’s harder when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand what’s going on because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s always asking people to repeat what they said? This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation often go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your friends and family to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s different with colleagues. Perhaps you’re concerned they will think you’re not competent. Your reputation could be damaged. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anyone!
This can be even more problematic because you may not even know you have hearing loss. Typically, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
You may be caught by surprise when you start to have difficulty following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more concerned.
Causes of hearing loss
So what is the cause of this? How do you develop hearing loss? Most commonly, it’s caused by age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Basically, as you age, your ears likely experience repeated damage due to loud noises. The stereocilia (fragile hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become compromised.
These little hairs won’t heal and can’t be healed. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is usually irreversible.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more comfortable in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party offers 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 smoother:
- Find a less noisy place to have those conversations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual clues.
- Refrain from drinking too many cocktails: If your thoughts start to get a little blurry, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. Simply put, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much smoother.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. This will help stop you from getting totally exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And it won’t ever be perfect. But reading lips may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
Of course, the best possible option is also one of the simplest.: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and personalized to your specific hearing needs. Even if you opt for larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Get your hearing checked before the party
If possible, get 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 hearing issues!