You get to your company’s annual holiday party and you’re immediately 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.
In such a noisy environment, you can’t hear anything. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anyone be enjoying this thing? But then you look around and see that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a fun affair is nothing more than a dark, solitary 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 can be a unique mix of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is especially true) even if your hearing is healthy. For people with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties present some unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prominent. 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, people have the tendency to talk at louder volumes and frequently all at once. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
For those with hearing loss, this noise generates a certain amount of interference. That’s because:
- Office parties feature tons of people all talking simultaneously. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s really hard to pick out one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Plenty 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 like office parties can make it even more difficult 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 may sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, even though they are supposed to be social events, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. At any rate, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: Holiday parties are an ideal chance to network with employees from other departments or even catch 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 occasion. This can be an excellent chance to make connections. But it’s much 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: Most people are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. This is one reason why hearing loss and solitude frequently go hand-in-hand. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. Perhaps you’re worried they will think you’re not competent. And that can harm your work reputation. So perhaps you simply avoid interaction instead. No one enjoys feeling left out.
This can be even more problematic because you might not even realize you have hearing loss. Typically, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
You could be caught off guard when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And when you notice you’re the only one, you might be even more surprised.
Causes of hearing loss
So what causes this? 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 damage from loud noise as you age. The fragile hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
That injury is permanent. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is normally irreversible.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more comfortable in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
Your office party presents some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, you’re thinking: how can I improve my hearing in a noisy environment? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time hanging around individuals who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. The more context clues you can get, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take 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: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And it won’t ever be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Avoid drinking too many adult beverages: Communication is less successful as your thinking gets blurry. Simply put, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much smoother.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be tailored to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if you opt for larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Before the party, get your hearing tested
That’s why, if possible, it’s a good idea to have your hearing assessed before the office holiday party. Due to COVID, this may be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!