You arrive at your company’s annual holiday party and you’re instantly assaulted by noise. You can feel the beat of the music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
You can’t hear a thing in this loud environment. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can anyone be having fun at this thing? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only one having difficulty.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for a person with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But don’t worry! You can get through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and maybe you will even enjoy yourself.
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a distinct blend of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). For people who have 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. To put it into perspective: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In an environment like this, people have the tendency to talk at louder volumes and frequently all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is created by this, especially for people with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to identify one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- Indoor gatherings tend to boost the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you are dealing with hearing loss.
This means anyone with hearing loss will experience trouble hearing and following conversations. At first glimpse, that might sound like a minor 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 occurs and connections are made. In any event, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: Holiday parties are an ideal opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even catch 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 good occasion to make connections. But it’s much harder when you have hearing loss and can’t make out what’s going on because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s constantly asking people to repeat themselves? 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 not the same with co-workers. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can damage your work reputation. So maybe you simply avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
This can be even more challenging because you might not even recognize you have hearing loss. Usually, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you may be surprised that you’re having difficulty following the conversation. And you might be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss develop? Most commonly, it’s caused by age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Basically, as you get older, your ears most likely experience repeated damage due to loud noises. The delicate hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
That damage is permanent. And the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, the worse your hearing will be. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is usually permanent.
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less unpleasant!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
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 environment? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Have conversations in quieter places: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And you will most likely never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication will be less successful as your thinking gets fuzzy. Simply put, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. You will be able to fill in comprehension gaps using these contextual clues.
Naturally, the best possible option is also one of the easiest.: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. Even if you pick 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 you can, it’s a good idea to get your hearing checked 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 hearing issues!