You get to your company’s annual holiday party and you’re instantly 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 a thing. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can this be fun for anyone? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only one having trouble.
For people with hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for a person who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But don’t worry! You can get through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and perhaps you will even enjoy yourself.
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties are usually a unique mix of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with distinct stressors.
The noise itself is the most prominent. Think about it in this way: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In a setting like this, people tend to talk at higher volumes and usually 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 boisterous side.
Some interference is generated by this, especially for individuals who have hearing loss. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s really hard to select one voice from overlapping conversations.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain can’t always get enough information to pick out voices.
- Indoor gatherings tend to boost the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you are dealing with hearing loss.
This means anybody with hearing loss will experience trouble picking up and following conversations. This might not sound like a very big deal at first.
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 surficially social events, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. In any event, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to think about:
- You can network: It isn’t unusual for people to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. This can be an excellent occasion to forge connections. But it’s harder when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand what’s going on because of the overwhelming noise.
- 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. Even if you ask your friends and family to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s different with co-workers. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation could be compromised. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
This can be even more challenging because you might not even recognize you have hearing loss. Typically, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you may be alarmed that you’re having difficulty following the conversation. And when you notice you’re the only one, you might be even more surprised.
Causes of hearing loss
So what causes this? How does hearing loss develop? Usually, it’s caused by age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated injury due to loud noises. The delicate hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
These tiny hairs never heal and can’t be repaired. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing becomes. In most instances, this type of hearing loss is irreversible (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the injury takes place).
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less unpleasant!
Tips to make your office party more enjoyable
Your office party presents some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a noisy environment, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Avoid drinking too many adult beverages: If your thinking starts to get a little blurry, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. By doing this, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s happening.
- Find a less noisy place to talk with people: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time hanging around individuals who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be capable of filling in information gaps using these contextual clues.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it won’t ever be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: invest in a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be tailored to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. Even if you pick larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Get your hearing checked before the party
That’s why, if possible, it’s a smart idea to have your hearing checked before the office holiday party. You might not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to catch you off guard.