You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you arrive at the annual company holiday party. You can feel the beat of the music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the click 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 having fun at this thing? But then you look around and see that you’re the only one that seems to be having trouble.
This most likely sounds familiar for individuals who are dealing with hearing loss. Unique stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for a person with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unharmed (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 distinct combination of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). For individuals with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties provide some unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. Think about it like this: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. This means they are usually rather noisy events, with everyone talking over each other all at the same time. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is generated by this, particularly for people with hearing loss. That’s because:
- Office parties feature lots of people all talking over each other. It’s difficult to isolate one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain can’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- Indoor gatherings tend to magnify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means that picking up and following conversations will be difficult for people with hearing loss. This might not sound like a 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, even though they are surficially social gatherings, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. In any event, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: It’s not uncommon for people to network with co-workers 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. You can use this event to forge new connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can be challenging to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s constantly asking people to repeat what they said? Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand because of this. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. Maybe you’re worried they will think you’re not competent. And that can damage your work reputation. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
You may not even realize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. The inability to hear clearly in noisy settings (like restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first indications of hearing loss.
As a result, you may be alarmed that you’re having a tough time following the conversation. And when you notice you’re the only one, you may be even more alarmed.
Hearing loss causes
So what causes this? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Your ears will normally take repeated damage from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (fragile hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become compromised.
That damage is permanent. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is typically irreversible.
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party presents some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you hear better? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming completely exhausted from straining to hear what’s happening.
- Refrain from drinking too many adult beverages: Communication will be less effective as your thinking gets blurry. In other words, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot easier.
- Find a quieter place to have those conversations: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can block a lot of sound and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud background noise.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But reading lips may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time with individuals who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual clues.
Naturally, the best possible option is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and customized to your particular hearing needs. 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
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. You might not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to sneak up and surprise you.