You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you get to the annual company holiday party. You can feel the beat of the music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
In such a loud environment, you can’t hear anything. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anyone be enjoying this thing? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only one that seems to be having trouble.
For people with hearing loss, this likely sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a jolly occasion is nothing more than a dark, lonely event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unscathed (and maybe even have some fun while you’re at it).
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’s a lot of background noise, holiday parties have unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prominent. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little bit. This means they tend to be fairly noisy affairs, with everybody talking over each other all at once. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is generated by this, particularly for individuals who have hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties feature lots of people all talking over each other. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to select one voice among overlapping discussions.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to pick out voices.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even harder to hear because sound tends to become amplified.
This means anyone with hearing loss will experience difficulty picking up and following conversations. At first glimpse, that might sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the professional and networking side of things. Although office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. In any event, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- 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 make connections. But it’s harder when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand what’s happening because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand for this reason. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. Maybe you’re worried they will think you’re incompetent. And that can harm your work reputation. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You may not even know that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. The inability to hear clearly in noisy environments (such as restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You may be caught by surprise when you start to have trouble following conversations. And you might be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this occur? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Basically, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated damage as a consequence of loud noises. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
These tiny hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is typically irreversible.
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less unpleasant!
Tips to make your office party more enjoyable
Your office party offers some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a noisy environment, how can you hear better? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication will be less successful 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 you will probably never perfect this. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. You will be capable of filling in information gaps using these contextual clues.
- Have conversations in quieter spots: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- 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 going on.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and personalized to your particular hearing needs. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing tested before the party
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 sneak up and surprise you.