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.
It makes you miserable.
In such a noisy environment, you can’t hear a thing. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all extremely disorienting. How can anybody be enjoying this thing? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only one that seems to be having difficulty.
For people with hearing loss, this likely sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for somebody who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But have no fear! You can get through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and maybe you will even enjoy yourself.
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 (especially if you’re an introvert). For people with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties provide 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 tend to be rather noisy affairs, with everybody talking over each other all at once. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But even dry office parties can be a little on the unruly side.
For those with hearing loss, this noise generates a certain degree of interference. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties feature lots of people all talking simultaneously. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s extremely difficult to identify one voice among overlapping discussions.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain has a hard time separating voices from all of this information.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even harder to hear because sound can become amplified.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be difficult for individuals with hearing loss. This may not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking aspect of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, even though they are supposed to be social gatherings, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. It’s usually highly encouraged to go to these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- You can network: It’s not unusual for people to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. This can be an excellent chance to make connections. But it’s much harder when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t understand 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. Even if you ask your friends and family to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s different with colleagues. Perhaps you’re worried they will think you’re incompetent. Your reputation may be damaged. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anyone!
This can be even more troublesome because you might not even know you have hearing loss. The inability to hear well in noisy settings (like restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first signs of hearing loss.
You may be caught off guard when you start to have difficulty following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you may be even more surprised.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this happen? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Basically, as you get older, your ears most likely experience repeated damage as a result of loud noises. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become damaged.
That damage is permanent. And the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, the worse your hearing becomes. In most instances, this type of hearing loss is permanent (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the damage happens).
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
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 noisy setting, how can you improve your ability to hear? You can make that office party smoother and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more context clues you can get, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Have conversations in quieter spots: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. In some cases, 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 ambient noise.
- Avoid drinking too many cocktails: If your thinking starts to get a little fuzzy, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate effectively. In other words, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And you will most likely never perfect this. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming completely exhausted from struggling to hear what’s happening.
Of course, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: 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 you pick 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 may not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to sneak up and surprise you.