You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you arrive at the annual company holiday party. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the pulsating beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
In such a loud environment, you can’t hear a thing. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re completely disoriented. How can anyone be having fun at this thing? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only person having trouble.
For individuals with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a jolly occasion is nothing more than a dark, solitary event. But have no fear! You can make it through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and maybe you will even have a good time.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a distinct mix of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with unique stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. Think about it like this: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a bit. As a result, they are usually fairly noisy events, with everybody talking over each other all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can be a little on the boisterous side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise creates a certain amount of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties include lots of people all talking over each other. It’s not easy to isolate one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and other noises. 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 hearing and following conversations will be difficult for people who have hearing loss. At first glance, that may sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the networking and professional aspect of things. 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 think about:
- You can network: It’s not uncommon for people to network with co-workers 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. This can be a good occasion to make connections. But it’s much harder when you have hearing loss and can’t make out what’s happening because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s always asking people to repeat what they said? Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand for this reason. Even if you ask your family and friends to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s different with co-workers. Maybe you’re worried they will think you’re incompetent. Your reputation could be damaged. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You might not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. The inability to hear clearly in noisy environments (like restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first indications of hearing loss.
You could be caught by surprise when you begin to have trouble following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you may be even more concerned.
Causes of hearing loss
So what is the cause of this? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Your ears will typically take repeated damage from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
That damage is permanent. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is normally irreversible.
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more enjoyable
Your office party offers some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Have conversations in quieter places: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of sound and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud ambient noise.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from becoming totally exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time with individuals who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual clues.
- Refrain from drinking too many cocktails: Communication will be less successful as your thinking gets blurry. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And it will never be perfect. But reading lips may be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
Naturally, the best possible option is also one of the easiest.: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and tailored to your particular hearing needs. Even if you opt for larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Get your hearing tested before the party
That’s why, if possible, it’s a smart idea to have your hearing assessed before the office holiday 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.