You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you arrive at the yearly 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 noisy environment, you can’t hear anything. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can anybody be enjoying this thing? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only person having trouble.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this likely sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for somebody who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But don’t worry! You can make it through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and maybe 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 unique blend of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there’s a lot of background noise, holiday parties have unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prominent. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a bit. This means they tend to be fairly noisy events, with everybody talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a factor here? absolutely. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise creates a certain amount of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties feature dozens of people all talking simultaneously. It’s difficult to isolate one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain has a hard time separating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor gatherings tend to amplify 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 have trouble hearing and following conversations. At first look, that may sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking aspect of things is where the big deal is. Even though office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. 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: Holiday parties are an ideal opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own section. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. This can be an excellent opportunity to forge connections. But it’s more challenging when you have hearing loss and can’t understand 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 solitude often go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your friends and family to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can damage your work reputation. So maybe you just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anyone!
You may not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. Usually, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you may be alarmed that you’re having a tough time following the conversation. And you might be even more alarmed that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So what causes this? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Essentially, as you get older, your ears most likely experience repeated damage due to loud noises. The delicate hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
That damage is permanent. And the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, the worse your hearing will be. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is normally irreversible.
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that come along with that office holiday party. So, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you hear better? You can make that office party smoother and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And you will probably never perfect this. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time with individuals who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. The more contextual clues you can get, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Avoid drinking too many cocktails: If your thoughts start to get a little blurry, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from becoming completely exhausted after having to listen really hard.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: invest in a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized 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.
Before the party, get your hearing examined
If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the party. Due to COVID, this may be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!