You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you arrive at the yearly company holiday party. You can feel the pumping music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear a thing in this noisy setting. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all really disorienting. How can anyone be having fun at this thing? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only person having difficulty.
For people who suffer from hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for someone who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But don’t worry! You can make it through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and perhaps you will even enjoy yourself.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique combination of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties have unique stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. To put it into perspective: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In an environment like this, people have the tendency to talk at louder volumes and usually 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 with hearing loss, this noise creates a certain degree of interference. That’s because:
- Office parties feature lots of people all talking simultaneously. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to select one voice among overlapping conversations.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. 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 more difficult to hear because sound tends to become amplified.
This means anybody with hearing loss will have difficulty hearing and following conversations. At first glance, that might sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the professional and networking aspect of things. Office holiday parties, though they are supposed to be social gatherings, a lot of networking occurs and connections are made. It’s normally highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: It isn’t unusual for people to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. This can be a fantastic chance to forge connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can be hard to talk with anyone.
- 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. Even if you ask your family and friends to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s different with co-workers. Maybe you’re worried they will think you’re not competent. Your reputation could be compromised. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
You may not even know 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 (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
You could be caught by surprise when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And when you notice you’re the only one, you might be even more concerned.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this take place? How do you develop hearing loss? Typically, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Basically, as you get older, your ears most likely experience repeated damage due to loud noises. The stereocilia (fragile hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
These tiny hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing becomes. In most instances, hearing loss like this is permanent (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the damage occurs).
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!
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 improve my hearing in a noisy environment? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Find a quieter place to have those conversations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from getting completely exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more context clues you can get, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And you will most likely never perfect this. But reading lips may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Refrain from drinking too many cocktails: If your thoughts start to get a little blurry, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot easier.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized 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.
Get your hearing checked before the party
That’s why, if you can, it’s a smart idea to get your hearing checked before the office holiday party. Because of COVID, this may be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!