You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you arrive at the annual company holiday party. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the pulsating 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 environment. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re completely disoriented. How can this be fun for anyone? But then you look around and see that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
For individuals with hearing loss, this likely sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for a person who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unharmed (and perhaps even have some fun at the same time).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique combination of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). For those with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties introduce some unique stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. Think about it like this: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In a setting like this, individuals tend to talk at louder volumes and usually 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 with hearing loss. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s extremely difficult to pick out one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and other noises. Your brain has a difficult 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 hearing and following conversations. This may not sound like a very big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the networking and professional side of things. Office holiday parties, though they are surficially social events, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. It’s usually highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: It isn’t uncommon for people to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. You can use this event to make new connections. But it’s harder when you have hearing loss and can’t understand what’s happening because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. This is one reason why hearing loss and solitude frequently go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your friends and family to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. Perhaps you’re worried they will think you’re not competent. Your reputation could be compromised. So perhaps you simply avoid interaction instead. No one likes feeling left out.
You may not even know that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. The inability to hear clearly in noisy environments (such as 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 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 do you develop hearing loss? Most commonly, it’s caused by age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you get older, your ears most likely experience repeated damage due to loud noises. The delicate hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
That damage is permanent. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that die. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is usually irreversible.
With this knowledge, 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 presents some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy setting? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable with these tips:
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual signals.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. This will help prevent you from becoming completely exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Find a less noisy place to talk with people: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But reading lips may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Refrain from drinking too many cocktails: If your thinking starts to get a little fuzzy, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a pair 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 what they said.
Before the party, get your hearing examined
That’s why, if possible, it’s a good idea to get your hearing assessed before the office holiday party. You may not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to catch you off guard.