You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you arrive at the yearly company holiday party. You can feel the beat of the music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
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 really disorienting. How can anybody be having fun at this thing? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only person having trouble.
This likely sounds familiar for people who suffer from hearing loss. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a jolly occasion is nothing more than a dour, solitary event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unharmed (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 come with distinct stressors.
Most notable is the noise. To put it into perspective: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. This means they are usually fairly noisy events, with lots of people talking over each other all at once. Could alcohol be a component here? Yes, yes it can. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise generates a certain amount of interference. That’s because:
- Office parties feature lots of people all talking over each other. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s extremely difficult to pick out one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain doesn’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 can become amplified.
This means that picking up and following conversations will be difficult for individuals with hearing loss. 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 events, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. At any rate, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: Holiday parties are an ideal opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own department. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. You can use this event to forge new connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can be challenging to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation frequently go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your friends and family to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. Maybe you’re concerned they will think you’re not competent. Your reputation may be damaged. So maybe you just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anybody!
This can be even more troublesome because you may not even know you have hearing loss. The inability to hear well in noisy environments (such as restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You could be caught by surprise when you start to have trouble following conversations. And when you notice you’re the only one, you may be even more concerned.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this take place? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Your ears will typically experience repeated damage from loud noise as you age. 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 die. In most cases, hearing loss like this is irreversible (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the damage occurs).
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more enjoyable
Your office party offers some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, when you’re in a noisy environment, how can you improve your ability to hear? 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 prevent yourself from becoming completely exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And you will probably never perfect this. But reading lips may be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thoughts start to get a little blurry, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of noise and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud background noise.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time with individuals who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. The more context clues you can pick up, the more you can make up for any gaps.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
That’s why, if possible, it’s a good idea to have 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.