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 throbbing 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 anybody be enjoying this thing? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only one having difficulty.
For people with hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. Unique 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 don’t worry! You can make it through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and maybe 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 especially true) even if your hearing is healthy. For people with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties provide 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 an environment like this, individuals tend to talk at higher volumes and usually all at once. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
For those with hearing loss, this noise generates a certain degree of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties include dozens of people all talking over each other. It’s not easy to isolate one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain has a hard time isolating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor gatherings tend to magnify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means anybody with hearing loss will experience trouble hearing and following conversations. At first glance, that may sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking aspect of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, even though they are supposed to be social gatherings, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. In any event, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It’s not uncommon for individuals to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. This can be an excellent 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 overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s constantly asking people to repeat what they said? Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand because of this. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. Perhaps you’re worried they will think you’re not competent. Your reputation could be damaged. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anyone!
This can be even more challenging 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 may be caught off guard when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And when you notice you’re the only one, you may be even more alarmed.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this happen? How does hearing loss develop? Typically, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you get older, your ears likely experience repeated injury as a consequence of loud noises. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become damaged.
That injury is permanent. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. In most instances, hearing loss like this is permanent (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the injury takes place).
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more pleasant in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more enjoyable
You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. So, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Have conversations in quieter places: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can block a lot of sound and give you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud ambient noise.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication will be less successful as your thinking gets fuzzy. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. This will help stop you from getting totally exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But reading lips may be able to help you fill in some of the gaps.
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time hanging around people who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. The more contextual clues you can pick up, the more you can make up for any gaps.
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 subtle. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people notice your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Before the party, get your hearing examined
That’s why, if you can, it’s a good idea to have your hearing checked 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 inability to hear!