You get to your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re immediately assaulted by noise. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the throbbing beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear anything in this loud setting. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all extremely disorienting. How can anybody be enjoying this thing? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only one having trouble.
For people who suffer from hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be presented 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 make it through your next holiday party unharmed (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 distinct blend of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there’s a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with distinct stressors.
Most notable is the noise. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a bit. As a result, they are usually fairly noisy affairs, with everybody talking over each other all at once. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the boisterous side.
Some interference is created by this, especially for individuals with hearing loss. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. It’s not easy to isolate one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a difficult time separating voices from all of this information.
- 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 anybody with hearing loss will have difficulty picking up and following conversations. At first glance, that might sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Even though office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. At any rate, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It isn’t uncommon for people to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. This can be a fantastic opportunity to make connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can be challenging to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s always asking people to repeat themselves? Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand because of this. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers 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 know that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. 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 could be caught by surprise when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And you might be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So what causes this? How does hearing loss develop? Usually, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you age, your ears likely experience repeated damage as a consequence of loud noises. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing becomes. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is typically irreversible.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more pleasant in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party offers some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy environment? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals 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.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. This will help stop you from becoming completely exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the background noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication will be less successful as your thinking gets fuzzy. The whole thing will be much easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And you will most likely never perfect this. But reading lips may be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
Of course, the best possible option is also one of the easiest.: 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 checked
That’s why, if possible, it’s a smart idea to have your hearing tested before the office holiday party. You might not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to catch you off guard.