You arrive at your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re instantly bombarded by noise. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the pulsating beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
It makes you miserable.
In such a loud 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 very disorienting. How can anyone be having fun at this thing? But then you look around and see that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
This most likely sounds familiar for individuals who suffer from hearing loss. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a jolly occasion is nothing more than a dour, solitary 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.
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 (particularly if you’re an introvert). For those 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. To put it into perspective: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In a setting like this, people have the tendency to talk at higher volumes and usually at the same time. Alcohol can definitely play a part. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is created by this, particularly for individuals who have hearing loss. 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.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even harder to hear because sound can become amplified.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be difficult for people with hearing loss. At first look, that may sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the professional and networking side of things. Office holiday parties, even though they are surficially social gatherings, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. It’s normally highly encouraged to go to these events so we’ll probably be there. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It’s not unusual for people to network with co-workers 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 opportunity. This can be a fantastic chance to make connections. But it’s more challenging when you have hearing loss and can’t make out what’s going on because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. 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. Maybe you’re concerned they will think you’re not competent. Your reputation may be damaged. So perhaps you simply avoid interaction instead. No one likes feeling left out.
This can be even more problematic because you may not even recognize you have hearing loss. Typically, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
You may be caught off guard when you start to have difficulty following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you may be even more concerned.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this occur? How does hearing loss develop? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Essentially, as you age, your ears likely experience repeated injury as a result of loud noises. The stereocilia (fragile hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become compromised.
That injury is permanent. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. In most instances, this type of hearing loss is irreversible (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the damage occurs).
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more comfortable in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
You don’t want to miss out on the fun and opportunities that come along with that office holiday party. 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:
- 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 using this technique.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. This will help stop you from getting completely exhausted after having to listen really hard.
- 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 information gaps using these contextual signals.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication will be less successful as your thinking gets fuzzy. Simply put, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much smoother.
- Find a quieter place to talk with people: 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.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: invest in a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be tailored to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people notice your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. Because of COVID, this might be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!