You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you get to the yearly company holiday party. 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 a thing in this noisy environment. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can this be fun for anyone? But then you look around and see that you’re the only one that seems to be having difficulty.
For people who suffer from hearing loss, this likely sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for someone 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 unharmed (and maybe even have some fun at the same time).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
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 with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties present some unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prominent. 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 louder volumes and usually all at once. 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 generates a certain degree of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s really difficult to identify one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and other noises. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to pick out voices.
- Indoor events tend to magnify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher on your ears when you are dealing with hearing loss.
This means anybody with hearing loss will have trouble picking up and following conversations. This might not sound like a very big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the professional and networking side of things. Even though office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. It’s normally highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to think about:
- You can network: Holiday parties are the perfect opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even catch up with co-workers in your own department. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. This can be an excellent occasion to forge connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can be challenging to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand because of this. Even if you ask your family and friends to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s not the same with co-workers. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation may be compromised. So maybe you simply avoid interaction instead. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You may not even know that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. The inability to hear well in noisy environments (like restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You may be caught by surprise when you start to have trouble following conversations. And you may be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this occur? How does hearing loss happen? Usually, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Basically, as you age, your ears likely experience repeated damage as a consequence of loud noises. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become damaged.
These little hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that die. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is normally irreversible.
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less unpleasant!
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
Your office party offers some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, you’re thinking: how can I improve my hearing in a noisy environment? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable using these tips:
- 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 successfully. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. You will be capable of filling in comprehension gaps using these contextual signals.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the background noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will most likely never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and personalized to your specific hearing needs. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing tested before the party
If possible, take 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 inability to hear!