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.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
In such a loud setting, you can’t hear a thing. You can’t keep up with 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 one that seems to be having difficulty.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for someone who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But don’t worry! You can make it through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and perhaps you will even have a good time.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties can be a unique mix of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. For people with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties introduce some unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. Think about it like this: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a bit. This means they are usually rather noisy affairs, with everyone talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise creates a certain level of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people 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 hard time separating 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 anybody with hearing loss will experience trouble 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 in the professional and networking aspect of things. Although office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. It’s usually highly encouraged to go to 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. This can be a fantastic opportunity to make connections. But it’s more challenging when you have hearing loss and can’t understand what’s happening because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s always asking people to repeat themselves? Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand for this reason. 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. Your reputation could be compromised. So maybe you just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anyone!
This can be even more troublesome because you might not even recognize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear clearly in noisy settings (such as restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first indications of hearing loss.
You could be caught by surprise when you start to have difficulty following conversations. And when you notice you’re the only one, you may be even more alarmed.
Causes of hearing loss
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss happen? Most commonly, it’s caused by age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated damage as a result of loud noises. The fragile hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
That injury is permanent. And the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, the worse your hearing will be. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is typically permanent.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more comfortable in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more enjoyable
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 improve my hearing in a noisy setting? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. You will be capable of filling in comprehension gaps using these contextual signals.
- Find a quieter place to have those conversations: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can block a lot of noise and provide you with a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud background noise.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it won’t ever be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thinking starts to get a little fuzzy, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. In this way, you can avoid becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing checked before the party
That’s why, if possible, it’s a smart idea to get your hearing tested before the office holiday party. Due to COVID, this may be your first holiday party in a few years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!