You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you arrive at 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 a thing in this loud setting. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anyone be enjoying this thing? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only person having difficulty.
For people with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a jolly occasion is nothing more than a dark, lonely event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unscathed (and maybe even have some fun at the same time).
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties can be a unique mix of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. For people who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties introduce some unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prevalent. Think about it in this way: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a bit. This means they tend to be rather noisy events, with lots of people talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the boisterous side.
Some interference is created by this, especially for people with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties feature tons of people all talking simultaneously. It’s difficult to pick out one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to pick out 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 anybody with hearing loss will have difficulty hearing and following conversations. At first look, that may sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking aspect of things is where the big deal is. Even though office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. It’s usually highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: Holiday parties are a great chance to network with employees from other departments or even catch up with co-workers in your own section. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. This can be a good occasion to forge connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation often go hand-in-hand. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. Perhaps you’re concerned they will think you’re not competent. Your reputation may be compromised. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. No one likes feeling left out.
You might not even realize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger issue. The inability to hear clearly in noisy settings (like restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You may be caught by surprise when you begin to have trouble following conversations. And you may be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this happen? How does hearing loss develop? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Basically, as you get older, your ears most likely experience repeated injury as a consequence of loud noises. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become compromised.
These tiny hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that die. In most instances, this type of hearing loss is permanent (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the injury occurs).
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
Your office party offers some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy environment? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication will be less effective as your thinking gets blurry. In other words, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot easier.
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time hanging around 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.
- Find a quieter place to have those conversations: 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 quieter.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And it will never be perfect. But reading lips may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. This will help prevent you from getting totally exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: invest in a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and personalized to your specific hearing needs. 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 you can, it’s a good 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 sneak up and surprise you.