You arrive at your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re immediately assaulted 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. 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 as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only person having trouble.
For individuals with hearing loss, this likely sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for someone who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But have no fear! You can get through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and maybe you will even enjoy yourself.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a distinct combination of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a bit. This means they are usually fairly noisy events, with lots of people talking over each other all at the same time. Alcohol can certainly play a part. 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 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 hard time isolating voices from all of this information.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even more difficult to hear because sound can become amplified.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be challenging for individuals with hearing loss. This might not sound like a very big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking aspect of things is where the big deal is. Even though office holiday parties are social events in theory, 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 individuals to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday events. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. You can use this event to make new connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand for this reason. Even if you ask your friends and family to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s different with colleagues. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation could be compromised. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anyone!
You might not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. Typically, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you might be surprised that you’re having a difficult time following the conversation. And you may be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So what causes this? How does hearing loss develop? Typically, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you get older, your ears likely experience repeated injury as a consequence of loud noises. The tiny hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
These little hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, the worse your hearing will be. In most cases, hearing loss like this is irreversible (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the damage happens).
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 with these tips:
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And you will most likely never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thoughts start to get a little fuzzy, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. The whole thing will be much easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. By doing this, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from struggling to hear what’s going on.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time with individuals who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. The more contextual clues you can pick up, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the background noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
Of course, the best possible option is also one of the simplest.: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. Even if you go with larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Before the party, get your hearing examined
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. Due to COVID, this may be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!