You get to your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re immediately assaulted by noise. You can feel the pumping music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
In such a loud environment, you can’t hear anything. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re completely disoriented. How can anyone be enjoying this thing? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only one having difficulty.
For individuals with hearing loss, this probably 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 solitary, dark event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unscathed (and maybe even have some fun at the same time).
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique combination of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prominent. To put it into perspective: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In a setting like this, people tend to talk at louder volumes and usually all at once. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise generates a certain level of interference. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s very difficult to pick out one voice among overlapping conversations.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties such as office parties can make it even harder to hear because sound tends to become amplified.
This means anyone with hearing loss will have trouble hearing and following conversations. This might not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the networking and professional aspect of things. Office holiday parties, though they are surficially social gatherings, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. In any event, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to think about:
- You can network: Holiday parties are an ideal opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own section. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. This can be an excellent chance to make connections. But it’s harder when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t make out what’s happening because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand for this reason. Even if you ask your family and friends to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s not the same with co-workers. Perhaps you’re worried they will think you’re not competent. And that can damage your work reputation. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. No one enjoys feeling left out.
This can be even more problematic because you might not even recognize 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).
You may be caught off guard when you start to have difficulty following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more alarmed.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this occur? How does hearing loss happen? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Essentially, as you get older, your ears likely experience repeated injury as a consequence of loud noises. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. 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 type of hearing loss is usually permanent.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more enjoyable in a few ways.
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, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time with people who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. The more contextual clues you can pick up, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help stop you from getting totally exhausted after having to listen really hard.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the background noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Avoid drinking too many cocktails: Communication will be less effective as your thinking gets blurry. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
Of course, the best possible option is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and personalized to your particular hearing needs. Even if you go with larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the party. You may not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to sneak up and surprise you.