You arrive at your company’s annual holiday party and you’re immediately bombarded by noise. You can feel the beat of the music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
In such a noisy setting, you can’t hear a thing. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can this be fun for anyone? But then you look around and see that you’re the only person that seems to be having difficulty.
For people with hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a fun affair is nothing more than a dour, solitary event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unscathed (and perhaps even have some fun while you’re at it).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties are usually a unique combination 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 have distinct 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. In a setting like this, people have the tendency to talk at higher volumes and usually all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. 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 include tons of people all talking over each other. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s really difficult to pick out one voice from overlapping conversations.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain has a difficult time separating voices from all of this information.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties such as office parties can make it even harder to hear because sound tends to become amplified.
This means that picking up and following conversations will be challenging for individuals with hearing loss. This may not sound like a very big deal at first.
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 events, 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. Here are a couple of things to think about:
- You can network: It isn’t unusual for people to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday events. 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’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can be challenging 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 because of this. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. Maybe you’re worried they will think you’re not competent. Your reputation may be compromised. So maybe you just avoid interaction instead. No one enjoys feeling left out.
This can be even more troublesome because you might not even recognize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear clearly in noisy environments (such as restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first signs of hearing loss.
As a result, you may be surprised that you’re having a hard time following the conversation. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more surprised.
Hearing loss causes
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss happen? Usually, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Basically, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated injury due to loud noises. The stereocilia (delicate 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. In most cases, hearing loss like this is irreversible (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the injury takes place).
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that come along with that office holiday party. So, you’re thinking: how can I improve my hearing in a noisy setting? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from struggling to hear what’s going on.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thinking starts to get a little fuzzy, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Find a less noisy place to talk with people: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it will never be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more contextual clues you can pick up, the more you can make up for any gaps.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the easiest.: 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 see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Before the party, get your hearing tested
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. You may not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to catch you off guard.