You get to your company’s annual holiday party and you’re immediately bombarded by noise. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the pulsating beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear a thing in this noisy environment. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But then you look around and see that you’re the only person that seems to be having difficulty.
This most likely sounds familiar for people who are dealing with hearing loss. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a jolly affair is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But don’t worry! You can make it through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and perhaps you will even have a good 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 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 prominent. Think about it in this way: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In a setting like this, individuals have the tendency to talk at higher volumes and often at the same time. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
For those with hearing loss, this noise creates a certain degree of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties feature dozens of people all talking over each other. It’s not easy to pick out one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain can’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 can become amplified.
This means anybody with hearing loss will have trouble picking up and following conversations. This may 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 supposed to be social gatherings, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. It’s normally highly encouraged to go to these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- 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 people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. This can be an excellent chance to forge connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can be hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand because of this. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can damage your work reputation. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anybody!
You may not even realize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. Usually, 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 a hard time following the conversation. And you might be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this take place? How does hearing loss happen? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Your ears will normally take repeated damage from loud noise as you get older. The tiny hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
These little hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that die. In most cases, hearing loss like this is permanent (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the injury takes place).
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
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:
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can avoid becoming totally exhausted from struggling to hear what’s going on.
- Find a quieter place to talk with people: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of sound and provide you with a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud background noise.
- Avoid drinking too many cocktails: Communication is less effective as your thinking gets blurry. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And it will never be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual clues.
Of course, the best possible option is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a set 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 themselves.
Before the party, get your hearing checked
If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the party. Due to COVID, this may be your first holiday party in a few years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!