You get to your company’s annual holiday party and you’re immediately assaulted by noise. You can feel the pumping music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear a thing in this loud environment. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all really disorienting. How can this be fun for anyone? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
For people who suffer from hearing loss, this likely sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun affair is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unharmed (and perhaps even have some fun while you’re at it).
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties are usually a unique combination 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 provide some unique stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. Think about it in this way: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. As a result, they tend to be fairly noisy events, with lots of people talking over each other all at the same time. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise generates a certain level of interference. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. It’s difficult to isolate 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 amplify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be difficult for people with hearing loss. This may not sound like a very big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, though they are surficially social events, 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: It isn’t unusual for individuals to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday events. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, 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 overpowering and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. This is one reason why hearing loss and solitude frequently go hand-in-hand. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation could be damaged. So maybe 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 problem. The inability to hear clearly in noisy settings (like restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first indications of hearing loss.
As a result, you might be alarmed that you’re having a hard time following the conversation. And when you observe you’re the only one, you may be even more concerned.
Hearing loss causes
So what causes this? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Your ears will usually take repeated damage from loud noise as you get older. The stereocilia (fragile hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become damaged.
These little hairs never heal and can’t be repaired. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is typically permanent.
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
You don’t want to miss out on the fun and opportunities that come along with 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 using these tips:
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will most likely never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from getting totally exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Avoid drinking too many cocktails: If your thinking starts to get a little blurry, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. Simply put, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot easier.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. You will be able to fill in comprehension gaps using these contextual signals.
- Have conversations in quieter spots: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of noise and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud background noise.
Of course, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: 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 go with larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
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.