You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you get to the annual company holiday party. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the throbbing beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
In such a loud setting, you can’t hear a thing. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all extremely disorienting. How can anybody be enjoying this thing? But then you look around and see that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
This likely sounds familiar for individuals who suffer from hearing loss. Distinct stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for somebody with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unscathed (and maybe even have some fun at the same time).
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a distinct combination of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with distinct stressors.
Most notable is the noise. Think about it like this: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. This means they tend to be fairly noisy affairs, with everyone talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
For those with hearing loss, this noise creates a certain level of interference. That’s because:
- Office parties feature dozens of people all talking over each other. It’s difficult to pick out one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- Indoor events tend to boost the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means that picking up and following conversations will be difficult for people with hearing loss. At first look, that might sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking aspect of things is where the big deal is. Although office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. At any rate, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: It isn’t unusual for individuals to network with colleagues 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. This can be a fantastic chance to forge connections. But it’s more challenging when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t make out what’s going on because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s always asking people to repeat themselves? This is one reason why hearing loss and solitude often go hand-in-hand. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. Maybe you’re worried they will think you’re not competent. And that can damage your work reputation. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
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).
You may be caught off guard when you start to have trouble following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more surprised.
Hearing loss causes
So what is the cause of this? How do you develop hearing loss? Usually, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will typically take repeated damage from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become compromised.
These little hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is normally irreversible.
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more enjoyable
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? You can make that office party smoother and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Find a less noisy place to talk with people: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time with individuals who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. The more context clues you can get, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication will be less effective as your thinking gets fuzzy. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help stop you from becoming totally exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And you will most likely never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
Naturally, the best possible solution is also one of the easiest.: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Before the party, get your hearing checked
If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the party. Due to COVID, this might be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!