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 throbbing beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
In such a noisy environment, you can’t hear anything. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anyone be enjoying this thing? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a jolly affair is nothing more than a dark, lonely event. But have no fear! You can get through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and perhaps 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 unique mix of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). 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 opportunity to let loose a bit. In a setting like this, people tend to talk at louder volumes and usually all at once. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is produced by this, especially for individuals with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties feature tons of people all 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 difficult time isolating voices from all of this information.
- 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 picking up and following conversations. This may not sound like a very big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the networking and professional aspect of things. Although 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: It isn’t unusual for individuals to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. You can use this event to make new connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are hesitant 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 colleagues are a different story. Perhaps you’re concerned they will think you’re not competent. Your reputation may be damaged. So perhaps you simply avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anybody!
This can be even more troublesome because you may not even realize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear clearly in noisy settings (like restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You may be caught off guard when you begin to have trouble following conversations. And you might be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this happen? How do you develop hearing loss? Most commonly, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will typically take repeated damage from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
These little hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. In most cases, this type of hearing loss is permanent (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the injury takes place).
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 don’t want to miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy environment? You can make that office party smoother and more enjoyable with these tips:
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. By doing this, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from struggling to hear what’s going on.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. The more contextual clues you can pick up, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Find a quieter place to talk with people: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of noise and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud ambient noise.
- Refrain from drinking too many cocktails: If your thoughts start to get a little fuzzy, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. Simply put, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot easier.
Naturally, the best possible option is also one of the simplest.: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized 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
That’s why, if you can, it’s a good idea to get your hearing checked before the office holiday party. You may not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to catch you off guard.