You get to your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re instantly bombarded by noise. You can feel the beat of the music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
You can’t hear a thing in this noisy environment. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anyone be having fun at this thing? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only one having trouble.
This probably sounds familiar for individuals who are dealing with hearing loss. Distinct stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for a person with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unharmed (and perhaps even have some fun while you’re at it).
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties can be a unique combination 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 present some unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prevalent. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little. This means they tend to be rather noisy affairs, with everybody talking over each other all at the same time. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
For those with hearing loss, this noise generates a certain amount of interference. That’s because:
- Office parties include dozens of people all talking simultaneously. It’s difficult to isolate one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain can’t always get enough information to pick out 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 that picking up and following conversations will be challenging for people with hearing loss. At first look, that might sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the networking and professional aspect of things. Although office holiday parties are theoretically social events, 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’s not uncommon for individuals to network with colleagues 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 opportunity. 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 reluctant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand because of this. Even if you ask your family and friends to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You might not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger issue. The inability to hear well in noisy environments (such as restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first signs of hearing loss.
As a result, you may be alarmed that you’re having a difficult time following the conversation. And you might be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this happen? How do you develop hearing loss? Usually, it’s caused by age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you get older, your ears likely experience repeated damage due to loud noises. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become damaged.
That injury is permanent. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is usually irreversible.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more comfortable in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
You don’t want to miss out on the fun and opportunities that come along with that office holiday party. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy setting? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. This will help stop you from getting completely exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And it won’t ever be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- 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.
- 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, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.
- Have conversations in quieter spots: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can block a lot of sound and give you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud ambient noise.
Of course, the best possible option is also one of the easiest.: invest in a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people notice your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing tested before the party
That’s why, if you can, it’s a good idea to get your hearing tested before the office holiday party. Due to COVID, this may be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!