You arrive at your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re instantly bombarded by noise. 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.
In such a noisy setting, you can’t hear anything. You can’t follow 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 continues, you see that you’re the only one having trouble.
This probably sounds familiar for people who suffer from hearing loss. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun affair is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But don’t worry! You can get through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and maybe you will even enjoy yourself.
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 (particularly if you’re an introvert). For those 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. Think about it in this way: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. This means they are usually fairly noisy affairs, with everybody talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is produced by this, especially for people who have hearing loss. That’s because:
- Office parties include tons of people all talking simultaneously. It’s difficult to isolate one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and other noises. 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 have hearing loss.
This means anybody with hearing loss will experience trouble picking up and following conversations. At first look, 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. Although office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. It’s normally highly encouraged to go to these events so we’ll probably be there. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It’s not unusual for people to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday events. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. This can be a good chance to forge connections. But it’s more challenging when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand what’s happening because of the overwhelming 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 solitude often go hand-in-hand. 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. Your reputation could be compromised. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
You may not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. Usually, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
You could be caught off guard when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And when you notice you’re the only one, you may be even more concerned.
Causes of hearing loss
So what is the cause of this? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Your ears will usually experience repeated injury from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become compromised.
That damage is permanent. 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 kind of hearing loss is normally permanent.
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less uncomfortable!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party presents 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? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable with these tips:
- Avoid drinking too many cocktails: If your thoughts start to get a little fuzzy, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. The whole thing will be much easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- 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 get, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Have conversations in quieter spots: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. In this way, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from straining to hear what’s happening.
- Try to read lips: You will improve 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.
Of course, the best possible solution is also one of the easiest.: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and tailored to your particular 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 tested before the party
That’s why, if possible, it’s a good idea to get your hearing tested before the office holiday party. Due to COVID, this might be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!