You arrive at your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re immediately bombarded 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 loud setting, you can’t hear anything. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can anyone be enjoying this thing? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having difficulty.
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 affair is nothing more than a dour, solitary 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 can be a unique blend of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is especially true) even if your hearing is healthy. For those who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties provide some unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little. In a setting like this, individuals tend to talk at louder volumes and usually all at once. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise creates a certain amount of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to select one voice among overlapping discussions.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain can’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties such as office parties can make it even more difficult to hear because sound tends to become amplified.
This means anyone with hearing loss will experience trouble picking up and following conversations. At first look, that may sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the networking and professional side of things. Even though office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. At any rate, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It isn’t uncommon for people to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. This can be a good opportunity to make connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. This is one reason why hearing loss and solitude often go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your friends and family to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s different with co-workers. Maybe you’re concerned they will think you’re not competent. And that can harm your work reputation. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. No one enjoys feeling left out.
This can be even more troublesome because you might not even recognize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear well in noisy environments (like restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first indications of hearing loss.
You may be caught by surprise when you start to have trouble following conversations. And you may be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this take place? How do you develop hearing loss? Most commonly, it’s the result of 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 stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
That injury is permanent. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. In most instances, this type of hearing loss is irreversible (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the injury takes place).
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less unpleasant!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
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? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thoughts start to get a little blurry, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Have conversations in quieter spots: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of sound and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud background noise.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from becoming totally exhausted after having to listen really hard.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more context clues you can get, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- 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.
Of course, the best possible solution 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 subtle. Even if you opt for larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Get your hearing tested before the party
That’s why, if possible, it’s a smart idea to get your hearing assessed before the office holiday party. Due to COVID, this might be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!