You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you arrive at the annual company holiday party. You can feel the pumping music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear a thing in this loud setting. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re completely disoriented. 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 trouble.
This probably sounds familiar for individuals who suffer from hearing loss. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a jolly affair is nothing more than a dark, lonely event. But have no fear! You can get through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and perhaps 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 distinct combination of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there’s a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with distinct stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. Think about it like this: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. As a result, they are usually fairly noisy events, with lots of people talking over each other all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can be a little on the unruly side.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise generates a certain degree of interference. That’s because:
- Office parties feature tons of people all talking simultaneously. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to select one voice from overlapping conversations.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain can’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 are dealing with hearing loss.
This means anyone with hearing loss will have difficulty picking up and following conversations. This might not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the professional and networking side of things. Although office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. At any rate, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: Holiday parties are an ideal 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. You can use this event to make new connections. But it’s more challenging when you have hearing loss and can’t make out what’s going on because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand because of this. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers 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. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anybody!
This can be even more challenging because you may not even realize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear well in noisy environments (such as restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first indications of hearing loss.
As a result, you may be alarmed that you’re having a tough time following the conversation. And you may be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So what causes this? How does hearing loss develop? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Essentially, as you age, your ears likely experience repeated damage as a consequence of loud noises. The delicate hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
These tiny hairs never heal and can’t be repaired. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. In most cases, this type of hearing loss is irreversible (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the injury takes place).
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more enjoyable
Your office party presents some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy environment? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thinking starts to get a little blurry, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. The whole thing will be a lot 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 clues.
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can block a lot of sound and give you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud background noise.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break every hour. This will help prevent 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 it won’t ever be perfect. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and tailored to your particular hearing needs. Even if you opt for larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Before the party, get your hearing tested
If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the 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.