You get to your company’s annual 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.
In such a loud environment, you can’t hear a thing. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only one having trouble.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun affair is nothing more than a dark, solitary event. But don’t worry! You can make it through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and maybe you will even enjoy yourself.
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). For those who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties introduce some unique stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little. In a setting like this, people tend to talk at louder volumes and frequently all at once. Could alcohol be a component here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can 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 lots of people all talking over each other. It’s not easy to pick out one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain has a hard time isolating voices from all of this information.
- 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 have difficulty picking up and following conversations. This might 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 surficially social events, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. It’s normally highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to think about:
- You can network: It isn’t unusual for people to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. This can be an excellent opportunity to make 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?” all the time. Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand for this reason. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
This can be even more troublesome because you may not even recognize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear clearly in noisy settings (such as restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first indications of hearing loss.
You may be caught by surprise when you begin to have trouble following conversations. And when you notice you’re the only one, you may be even more alarmed.
Causes of hearing loss
So what causes this? How does hearing loss happen? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Your ears will normally take repeated damage from loud noise as you get older. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become compromised.
That injury is permanent. And the more stereocilia that die, 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 normally irreversible.
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less unpleasant!
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
You don’t want to miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. So, you’re thinking: how can I improve my hearing in a noisy setting? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Find a less noisy place to talk with people: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can block a lot of noise and give you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud ambient noise.
- 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 fill in any gaps.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it won’t ever be perfect. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. By doing this, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from struggling to hear what’s happening.
- Avoid drinking too many adult beverages: Communication will be less successful as your thinking gets fuzzy. The whole thing will be much easier if you go easy on the drinking.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and tailored to your specific hearing needs. Even if you pick larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Get your hearing tested before the party
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. Due to COVID, this may be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!