You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you arrive at the yearly company holiday party. You can feel the pumping music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
In such a noisy setting, you can’t hear a thing. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all really disorienting. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only one having trouble.
This likely sounds familiar for individuals 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 dark, lonely event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unharmed (and perhaps even have some fun at the same time).
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties are usually a unique blend of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is especially true) even if your hearing is healthy. 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: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little bit. As a result, they are usually rather noisy affairs, with everyone talking over each other all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is generated by this, particularly for individuals with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties feature tons of people all talking simultaneously. It’s not easy to pick out one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- 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 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 difficult for individuals who have hearing loss. This may not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the professional and networking side of things. Office holiday parties, though they are surficially social gatherings, 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: It isn’t uncommon for individuals to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday events. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. You can use this event to forge new connections. But it’s more challenging when you have hearing loss and can’t understand what’s going on because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s always asking people to repeat themselves? Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand for this reason. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can damage your work reputation. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. No one likes feeling left out.
You might not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. The inability to hear clearly in noisy settings (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 difficulty following conversations. And you may be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss develop? Usually, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated injury as a result of loud noises. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become compromised.
That injury is permanent. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that die. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is usually permanent.
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
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 hear better? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable with these tips:
- Find a less noisy place to talk with people: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can block 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.
- Refrain from drinking too many cocktails: If your thinking starts 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 much easier.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it will never be perfect. But reading lips might be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time with individuals who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be capable of filling in comprehension gaps using these contextual signals.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can avoid becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s happening.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and personalized to your particular hearing needs. Even if you go with larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
If possible, get 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.