You’re bombarded 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.
It makes you miserable.
In such a loud environment, you can’t hear anything. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re completely disoriented. 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.
This probably sounds familiar for individuals who suffer from hearing loss. Distinct stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for somebody who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unharmed (and maybe even have some fun while you’re at it).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a distinct mix of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). For people who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties introduce some unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. To put it into perspective: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. As a result, they are usually fairly noisy events, with lots of people talking over each other all at the same time. Alcohol can definitely play a part. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is produced by this, particularly for individuals who have hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties include lots of people all talking over each other. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to identify one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a hard time separating voices from all of this information.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even harder to hear because sound can become amplified.
This means anybody with hearing loss will experience difficulty picking up and following conversations. 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. Although 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’s not uncommon for people to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday events. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. This can be an excellent chance to forge connections. But it’s much harder when you have hearing loss and can’t make out what’s happening because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand for this reason. Even if you ask your friends and family to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s different with colleagues. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can damage your work reputation. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anyone!
You might not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger issue. Usually, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you may be alarmed that you’re having a hard time following the conversation. And you might be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So what is the cause of this? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Your ears will usually take repeated damage from loud noise as you get older. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become compromised.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. 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 injury happens).
Knowing all that, 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 significant opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, you’re thinking: how can I improve my hearing in a noisy environment? You can make that office party smoother and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming completely exhausted from struggling to hear what’s going on.
- 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 locations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Avoid drinking too many adult beverages: Communication will be less effective as your thinking gets fuzzy. Simply put, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much smoother.
Of course, the best possible option is also one of the simplest.: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and tailored to your specific hearing needs. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing tested before the party
If possible, take 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.