You get to your company’s annual holiday party and you’re instantly assaulted by noise. You can feel the pumping music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear anything in this loud environment. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anybody be enjoying this thing? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only one having trouble.
This probably sounds familiar for individuals who are dealing with hearing loss. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun affair is nothing more than a dark, lonely event. But have no fear! 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.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique mix 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 distinct 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 a setting like this, people tend to talk at louder volumes and often all at once. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the boisterous side.
Some interference is generated by this, particularly for people with hearing loss. That’s because:
- Office parties feature tons of people all talking over each other. It’s not easy 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.
- Indoor events tend to amplify 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 difficulty 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, though they are supposed to be social events, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. It’s normally highly encouraged to attend 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. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. You can use this event to make new connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. 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. And that can damage your work reputation. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. No one likes feeling left out.
This can be even more problematic because you may not even realize you have hearing loss. 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 might be surprised that you’re having difficulty following the conversation. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more concerned.
Hearing loss causes
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss happen? Most commonly, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will usually experience repeated damage from loud noise as you age. The delicate hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
That damage is permanent. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. In most circumstances, this type of hearing loss is permanent (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the damage takes place).
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit 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, 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 smoother:
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And it will never be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more context clues you can get, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Refrain from drinking too many cocktails: Communication will be less successful as your thinking gets blurry. Simply put, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from getting completely exhausted after having to listen really hard.
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Try hanging out 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 less loud.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: get yourself 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.
Get your hearing checked before the party
If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the party. Because of COVID, this may be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!