You arrive at your company’s annual holiday party and you’re instantly assaulted by noise. 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.
You can’t hear anything in this noisy environment. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anybody be enjoying this thing? But then you look around and see that you’re the only person that seems to be having difficulty.
For people who suffer from hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be presented 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 get through your next holiday party unscathed (and perhaps even have some fun while you’re at it).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties can be a unique combination of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is especially true) even if your hearing is healthy. If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties have unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little. In a setting like this, individuals have the tendency to talk at louder volumes and often at the same time. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But even dry office parties can be a little on the boisterous side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise creates a certain amount of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties include lots of people all talking over each other. It’s not easy to isolate one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain can’t always get enough information to pick out voices.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties such as office parties can make it even harder to hear because sound can become amplified.
This means anyone with hearing loss will have difficulty hearing and following conversations. This might not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the networking and professional side of things. Even though office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. In any event, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: Holiday parties are an ideal chance to network with employees from other departments or even catch up with co-workers in your own department. 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 it’s more challenging when you have hearing loss and can’t make out what’s going on because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s constantly asking people to repeat what they said? This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation often go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your family and friends to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So perhaps you simply avoid interaction instead. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You may 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 often one of those first indications of hearing loss.
As a result, you might be alarmed that you’re having a difficult time following the conversation. And you may be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this occur? How does hearing loss happen? Typically, it’s caused by age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Basically, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated injury as a result of loud noises. The delicate hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
That injury is permanent. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. In most circumstances, hearing loss like this is irreversible (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the damage takes place).
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
Your office party presents some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy setting? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Have conversations in quieter places: Try hanging out off to the side 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.
- Refrain from drinking too many cocktails: Communication will be less effective as your thinking gets fuzzy. Simply put, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much smoother.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help stop you from becoming totally exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual clues.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and personalized to your particular hearing needs. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people notice your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing tested before the party
That’s why, if you can, it’s a good idea to get your hearing assessed before the office holiday party. Due to COVID, this might be your first holiday party in a few years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!