You get to your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re immediately bombarded by noise. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the throbbing beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
It makes you miserable.
In such a loud setting, you can’t hear anything. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re completely disoriented. How can this be fun for anyone? But then you look around and see that you’re the only one that seems to be having trouble.
This probably sounds familiar for individuals who are dealing with hearing loss. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a jolly affair is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But have no fear! You can make it through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and maybe you will even enjoy yourself.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties can be a unique blend of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prominent. Think about it like this: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little. This means they are usually rather noisy affairs, with lots of people talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is created by this, especially for people who have hearing loss. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. It’s difficult 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 has a hard time separating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor gatherings tend to magnify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you are dealing with hearing loss.
This means anybody with hearing loss will have trouble hearing and following conversations. At first look, that may sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the networking and professional aspect of things. Even though office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. It’s usually highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: Holiday parties are an ideal chance to network with employees from other departments or even catch up with co-workers in your own department. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. You can use this event to make new connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can be hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. Isolation and hearing loss often 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 left out and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
This can be even more challenging because you might not even realize you have hearing loss. Typically, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you may be surprised that you’re having a hard time following the conversation. And when you notice you’re the only one, you might be even more alarmed.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this take place? How does hearing loss develop? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Essentially, as you age, your ears likely experience repeated injury due to loud noises. The tiny hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing becomes. In most cases, hearing loss like this is permanent (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the injury occurs).
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more fun
Your office party presents some significant 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 smoother and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. You will be capable of filling in information gaps using these contextual signals.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And it will never be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the background noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. By doing this, you can avoid becoming totally exhausted from struggling to hear what’s happening.
- Avoid drinking too many cocktails: If your thinking starts to get a little blurry, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: invest in a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be tailored to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if you go with larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Before the party, get your hearing checked
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.