You’re bombarded 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.
You can’t hear anything in this loud environment. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all extremely disorienting. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But then you look around and see that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for someone who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark 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.
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties are usually a unique blend of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. For people who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties present some unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. Think about it in this way: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. This means they are usually fairly noisy affairs, with everyone talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But even dry office parties can be a little on the unruly side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise creates a certain amount of interference. That’s because:
- Office parties include lots of people all talking over each other. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s very difficult to select one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Plenty 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 harder on your ears when you are dealing with hearing loss.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be challenging for people who have hearing loss. At first glance, that may sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the professional and networking side of things. Office holiday parties, even though they are surficially social events, a lot of networking occurs and connections are made. It’s usually highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: Holiday parties are a great chance to network with employees from other departments or even catch up with co-workers in your own section. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. This can be an excellent occasion to forge connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overpowering and it can be hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s constantly 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. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. No one likes feeling left out.
This can be even more problematic because you may not even recognize you have hearing loss. Typically, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
You may be caught by surprise when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And you may be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So what causes this? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Your ears will typically take repeated injury from loud noise as you get older. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become compromised.
These little hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is typically permanent.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more enjoyable in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
You don’t want to miss out on the fun and opportunities that come along with that office holiday party. So, when you’re in a loud environment, how can you improve your ability to hear? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable with these tips:
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication will be less successful as your thinking gets fuzzy. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Have conversations in quieter places: 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 less loud.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. By doing this, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from struggling to hear what’s happening.
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time with people who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. The more context clues you can get, the more you can make up for any gaps.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and tailored to your specific hearing needs. Even if you opt for larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
That’s why, if possible, it’s a good idea to get your hearing assessed before the office holiday party. You might not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to sneak up and surprise you.