You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you arrive at the annual company holiday party. You can feel the pumping music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
In such a loud environment, you can’t hear anything. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re completely disoriented. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only one having difficulty.
This probably sounds familiar for individuals who suffer from hearing loss. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a jolly affair is nothing more than a dour, solitary event. But don’t worry! You can get through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and maybe you will even enjoy yourself.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties can be a unique mix 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 like this: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. In a setting like this, people tend to talk at higher volumes and usually at the same time. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is created by this, particularly for people who have hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. It’s difficult to pick out one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clinking dishes, music, and other noises. Your brain can’t always get enough information to pick out voices.
- Indoor gatherings tend to boost the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher on your ears when you are dealing with hearing loss.
This means anyone with hearing loss will experience trouble picking up and following conversations. At first glance, that may sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the networking and professional side of things. Office holiday parties, even though they are supposed to be social events, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. It’s usually 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 individuals to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. This can be a good opportunity to forge connections. But it’s more challenging when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand what’s happening because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand for this reason. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. Perhaps you’re concerned they will think you’re incompetent. Your reputation could be damaged. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. No one likes feeling left out.
You might not even know that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. The inability to hear clearly in noisy settings (like restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You could be caught off guard when you start to have trouble following conversations. And when you notice you’re the only one, you may be even more surprised.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this happen? How do you develop hearing loss? Most commonly, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will normally experience repeated injury from loud noise as you get older. The tiny hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be healed. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is usually permanent.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more comfortable in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party offers some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy environment? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable with these tips:
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And it won’t ever be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thinking starts to get a little fuzzy, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. The whole thing will be much easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. You will be capable of filling in comprehension gaps using these contextual signals.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. By doing this, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s happening.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized 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
That’s why, if possible, it’s a smart idea to have your hearing tested before the office holiday 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!