You get to your company’s annual holiday party and you’re immediately bombarded by noise. You can feel the beat of the music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
In such a noisy setting, you can’t hear anything. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all really disorienting. How can anyone be enjoying this thing? But then you look around and see that you’re the only one that seems to be having difficulty.
This probably sounds familiar for people who suffer from hearing loss. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dark, solitary 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).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties can be a unique combination of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. For individuals with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties provide some unique stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. Think about it like this: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little. In an environment like this, individuals have the tendency to talk at louder volumes and usually at the same time. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But even dry office parties can be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is generated 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 have hearing loss.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain has a difficult time separating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor events tend to boost the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means anyone with hearing loss will experience trouble picking up and following conversations. This may not sound like a very big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the networking and professional side of things. Even though office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. It’s usually highly encouraged to go to these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to think about:
- You can network: Holiday parties are the perfect opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own section. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. You can use this event to forge new connections. But it’s harder when you have hearing loss and can’t make out what’s happening because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand for this reason. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation may be damaged. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. 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 well in noisy environments (like restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first indications of hearing loss.
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 surprised.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this take place? How do you develop hearing loss? Most commonly, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will typically experience repeated damage from loud noise as you get older. The delicate hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that die. In most circumstances, hearing loss like this is irreversible (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the damage occurs).
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more comfortable in a few ways.
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, when you’re in a loud environment, how can you hear better? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. You will be able to fill in comprehension gaps using these contextual clues.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. By doing this, you can avoid becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s happening.
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can block a lot of noise and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud background noise.
- 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: You will improve the more you practice. And it will never be perfect. But reading lips may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and personalized to your particular hearing needs. Even if you pick larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Before the party, get your hearing checked
If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the party. You may not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to catch you off guard.