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 thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear a thing in this noisy setting. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re completely disoriented. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But then you look around and see that you’re the only one that seems to be having trouble.
For individuals with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a fun affair is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unscathed (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. For people with 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. Think about it like this: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In an environment like this, individuals have the tendency to talk at higher volumes and often at the same time. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
For those with hearing loss, this noise generates a certain level 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 has a difficult time separating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor events tend to boost the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means anyone with hearing loss will have difficulty picking up and following conversations. At first look, that might sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking aspect of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, though they are surficially social gatherings, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. It’s normally highly encouraged to go to these events so we’ll probably be there. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: Holiday parties are the perfect chance to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own department. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. This can be a fantastic opportunity to make connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. This is one reason why hearing loss and solitude often go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your family and friends to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation may be compromised. So perhaps you simply avoid interaction instead. No one likes feeling left out.
You may not even realize 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 could be caught by surprise when you start to have trouble following conversations. And you might be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this happen? How do you develop hearing loss? Typically, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will typically take repeated damage from loud noise as you age. The tiny hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
That damage is permanent. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that die. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is typically permanent.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more pleasant in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party offers some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a noisy setting, 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 getting completely exhausted after having to listen really hard.
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time hanging around people who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. The more context clues you can pick up, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Avoid drinking too many adult beverages: Communication is less effective as your thinking gets blurry. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.
- Find a less noisy place to have those conversations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly quieter.
Naturally, the best possible option is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a set 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
That’s why, if possible, it’s a smart idea to have your hearing assessed before the office holiday party. Due to COVID, this might be your first holiday party in a few years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!