You arrive at your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re instantly assaulted by noise. You can feel the beat of the music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
In such a noisy setting, you can’t hear a thing. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re totally disoriented. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only person having trouble.
For people with hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a fun affair is nothing more than a dark, solitary 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 while you’re at it).
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties are usually a unique mix of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is especially true) even if your hearing is healthy. For those with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties introduce some unique stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. Think about it in this way: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. As a result, they are usually rather noisy affairs, with lots of people talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is produced by this, particularly for people who have hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to select one voice from overlapping conversations.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain can’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- Indoor gatherings tend to magnify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher on your ears when you are dealing with hearing loss.
This means that picking up and following conversations will be challenging for people with hearing loss. At first look, that may sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the networking and professional side of things. Although office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. In any event, attendance is usually encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It’s not uncommon for individuals to network with colleagues 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. You can use this event to make new 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? Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand because of this. Even if you ask your friends and family to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. They may mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can damage your work reputation. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anyone!
This can be even more problematic because you might not even know you have hearing loss. Typically, 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 by surprise when you start to have trouble following conversations. And you may be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Causes of hearing loss
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss happen? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Essentially, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated injury as a consequence of loud noises. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become compromised.
These little hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, the worse your hearing will be. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is typically permanent.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more enjoyable in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more fun
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 smoother:
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thoughts start to get a little fuzzy, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much easier.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it will never be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- 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 noise and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud background noise.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual signals.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. By doing this, you can avoid becoming completely exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get fitted for a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and personalized to your specific hearing needs. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
If possible, get 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.