You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you get to the yearly company holiday party. You can feel the pumping music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
You can’t hear anything in this loud environment. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anybody be enjoying this thing? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only one having difficulty.
This likely sounds familiar for individuals who are dealing with hearing loss. Unique stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for somebody 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 unharmed (and maybe even have some fun at the same time).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique mix of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). For those who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties present some unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. Think about it in this way: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. This means they tend to be fairly noisy affairs, with lots of people talking over each other all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is created by this, especially for people with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s really hard to pick out one voice among overlapping discussions.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- Indoor events tend to amplify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means that picking up and following conversations will be challenging for individuals with hearing loss. At first glimpse, 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. Office holiday parties, though they are supposed to be social events, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. In any event, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It isn’t uncommon for individuals to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday events. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. You can use this event to forge new connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can become challenging to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s constantly asking people to repeat themselves? This is one reason why hearing loss and solitude often go hand-in-hand. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. Maybe you’re worried they will think you’re not competent. And that can damage your work reputation. So maybe you simply avoid interaction instead. No one likes feeling left out.
This can be even more troublesome because you may not even recognize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear clearly in noisy environments (like restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You could be caught by surprise when you begin to have trouble following conversations. And when you notice you’re the only one, you might be even more surprised.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this happen? How does hearing loss happen? Typically, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will typically take repeated damage from loud noise as you get older. The tiny hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
That injury is permanent. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. In most instances, this type of hearing loss is permanent (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the damage occurs).
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!
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 noisy environment, how can you hear better? You can make that office party smoother and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Find a quieter place to talk with people: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from struggling to hear what’s going on.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it won’t ever be perfect. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Avoid drinking too many cocktails: Communication is less successful as your thinking gets blurry. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time hanging around people who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. The more context clues you can pick up, the more you can fill in any gaps.
Naturally, the best possible option is also one of the easiest.: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and personalized to your specific hearing needs. Even if you pick larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the party. You might not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to sneak up and surprise you.