You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you arrive at the yearly company holiday party. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the pulsating beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
In such a noisy setting, you can’t hear a thing. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all really 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 individuals with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for someone with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unharmed (and maybe even have some fun at the same time).
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). If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little. This means they are usually rather noisy affairs, with lots of people talking over each other all at the same time. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But even dry office parties can be a little on the boisterous side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise generates a certain level of interference. That’s because:
- Office parties feature lots of people all talking simultaneously. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s really hard to select one voice from overlapping conversations.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- Indoor gatherings tend to magnify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you are dealing with hearing loss.
This means anybody with hearing loss will experience difficulty picking up and following conversations. This might not sound like a very big deal at first.
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 usually encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It isn’t unusual for individuals to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday events. Work will be discussed, 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 overwhelming and it can be challenging to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation often go hand-in-hand. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You might not even realize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. Typically, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you might be alarmed that you’re having a difficult time following the conversation. And when you notice you’re the only one, you might be even more surprised.
Causes of hearing loss
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss happen? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Your ears will usually experience repeated damage from loud noise as you get older. The tiny hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
That injury is permanent. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. In most circumstances, this type of hearing loss is permanent (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the damage occurs).
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more comfortable in a few ways.
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 loud environment, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time with people who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. The more contextual clues you can pick up, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. By doing this, you can prevent yourself from becoming completely exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this 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.
- Avoid drinking too many cocktails: If your thinking starts to get a little fuzzy, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. In other words, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Possibly try sitting on a couch 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.
Naturally, the best possible option is also one of the easiest.: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. Even if you opt for larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Before the party, get your hearing checked
That’s why, if you can, it’s a smart idea to have your hearing assessed before the office holiday party. Due to COVID, this may be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!