You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you arrive at the yearly company holiday party. You can feel the pumping music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear anything in this noisy setting. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can anybody be enjoying this thing? But then you look around and see that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
This probably sounds familiar for individuals who suffer from hearing loss. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dark, solitary event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you get 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 unique mix of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). For those who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties provide some unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prevalent. Think about it in this way: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little bit. This means they tend to be fairly noisy events, with everybody talking over each other all at once. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But even dry office parties can be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is produced by this, particularly for individuals who have hearing loss. 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 difficult to pick out one voice among overlapping discussions.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a hard time separating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor gatherings tend to amplify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder 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 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 theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. In any event, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It’s not 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. You can use this event to make new connections. But it’s much harder when you have hearing loss and can’t understand what’s going on because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand for this reason. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. Maybe you’re concerned they will think you’re incompetent. Your reputation could be damaged. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You might not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger issue. Typically, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
You may be caught off guard when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more alarmed.
Causes of hearing loss
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss happen? Usually, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will usually experience repeated damage from loud noise as you get older. The tiny hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be healed. And the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, the worse your hearing becomes. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is typically permanent.
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less unpleasant!
Tips to make your office party more fun
Your office party presents some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a noisy environment, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. This will help stop you from becoming totally exhausted after having to listen really hard.
- Find a less noisy place to talk with people: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of noise and provide you with a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud ambient noise.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thinking starts to get a little blurry, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot easier.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it won’t ever be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time with individuals who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. The more contextual clues you can get, 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 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 checked
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.