You arrive at your company’s annual holiday party and you’re immediately bombarded by noise. You can feel the beat of the music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear a thing in this loud setting. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can this be fun for anyone? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only one 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 a person with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unscathed (and maybe even have some fun while you’re at it).
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties are usually a unique mix of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. For people who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties present some unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prevalent. Think about it like this: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In an environment like this, individuals have the tendency to talk at higher volumes and usually at the same time. Could alcohol be a factor here? absolutely. But even dry office parties can 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:
- Office parties include dozens of people all talking simultaneously. It’s difficult to isolate one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and other noises. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to pick out voices.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties such as office parties can make it even more difficult to hear because sound tends to become amplified.
This means anybody with hearing loss will experience trouble hearing and following conversations. At first glimpse, that might sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the professional and networking side 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. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: Holiday parties are a great 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 work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. This can be a good occasion to forge connections. But it’s much harder when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t make out what’s happening because of the overwhelming noise.
- 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. Even if you ask your friends and family to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. Perhaps you’re worried they will think you’re incompetent. Your reputation could be compromised. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anybody!
You might not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger issue. The inability to hear well in noisy settings (like restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first indications of hearing loss.
You could be caught by surprise when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And you may be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this occur? How does hearing loss happen? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Your ears will normally take repeated injury from loud noise as you get older. The tiny hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
These tiny hairs never heal and can’t be healed. 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 usually permanent.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more enjoyable in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
You’d rather not 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 some tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Have conversations in quieter spots: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can neutralize 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.
- Avoid drinking too many cocktails: Communication is less effective as your thinking gets fuzzy. Simply put, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot easier.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it will never be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- 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 speak. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual clues.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: 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
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the 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 hearing issues!