You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you get to the yearly company holiday party. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the throbbing beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
You can’t hear anything in this noisy setting. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anybody be having fun at this thing? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only person having difficulty.
For people with hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun affair is nothing more than a dark, solitary event. But have no fear! You can make it through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and maybe you will even enjoy yourself.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a distinct blend of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). 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 prevalent. To put it into perspective: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In a setting like this, individuals tend to talk at louder volumes and usually all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? absolutely. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
For those with hearing loss, this noise creates a certain degree of interference. That’s because:
- Office parties include dozens of people all talking over each other. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s very difficult to identify one voice among overlapping conversations.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a hard time separating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor events tend to amplify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher on your ears when you are dealing with hearing loss.
This means anyone with hearing loss will have trouble hearing and following conversations. At first glance, 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. Even though 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. This means a couple of things:
- 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. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. You can use this event to make new 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 individuals are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation often go hand-in-hand. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation could be damaged. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. No one likes feeling left out.
This can be even more challenging because you might not even know you have hearing loss. Usually, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you may be surprised that you’re having a hard time following the conversation. And when you observe you’re the only one, you may be even more surprised.
Hearing loss causes
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss develop? Usually, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you get older, your ears most likely experience repeated injury as a result of loud noises. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become damaged.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be healed. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that die. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is usually permanent.
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less unpleasant!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. So, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you improve your ability to hear? 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 really expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more contextual clues you can pick up, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Find a quieter place to talk with people: Maybe try sitting on a couch 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.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Avoid drinking too many cocktails: Communication is less successful as your thinking gets fuzzy. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. This will help stop you from getting totally exhausted after having to listen really hard.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and personalized to your specific hearing needs. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people notice your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing assessed 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 several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!