You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you get to the yearly company holiday party. You can feel the beat of the music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
In such a noisy setting, you can’t hear anything. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all extremely disorienting. How can anyone be having fun at this thing? But then you look around and see that you’re the only person that seems to be having difficulty.
This likely sounds familiar for people who suffer from 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! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unharmed (and maybe even have some fun while you’re at it).
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties can be a unique mix of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is especially true) even if your hearing is healthy. For individuals 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 prominent. To put it into perspective: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. This means they are usually fairly noisy affairs, with lots of people talking over each other all at once. Could alcohol be a component here? Yes, yes it can. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is produced by this, particularly for individuals with hearing loss. That’s because:
- Office parties feature tons of people all talking simultaneously. One of the symptoms 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 has a hard time isolating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor events tend to amplify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher 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 look, that might sound like a minor 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. In any event, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: It’s not unusual for people to network with colleagues 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 make new connections. But it’s more challenging when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand what’s happening because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand because of this. Even if you ask your friends and family to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation could be compromised. So perhaps you simply avoid interaction instead. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You may not even realize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. Usually, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
You could be caught off guard when you begin to have trouble following conversations. And you may be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this occur? How do you develop hearing loss? Usually, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated damage due to loud noises. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become compromised.
These tiny hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing becomes. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is normally irreversible.
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
Your office party presents some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, when you’re in a noisy environment, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Find a quieter place to have those conversations: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can block 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.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. You will be capable of filling in comprehension gaps using these contextual clues.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And it will never be perfect. But reading lips might be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication will be less successful as your thinking gets blurry. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. This will help prevent you from becoming completely exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
Of course, the best possible solution is also one of the easiest.: invest in a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if you pick larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat what they said.
Before the party, get your hearing tested
If possible, take 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 catch you off guard.