You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you arrive at the yearly company holiday party. You can feel the beat of the music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear anything in this noisy setting. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all extremely disorienting. How can this be fun for anyone? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only one having difficulty.
For individuals with hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for somebody with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark 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 at the same time).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties are usually a unique combination of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. If you struggle to hear when there is a lot of background noise, holiday parties have unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prominent. 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 affairs, with everybody talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is generated by this, especially for individuals with hearing loss. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. It’s difficult to isolate one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Lots of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to pick out voices.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even more difficult to hear because sound can become amplified.
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 the networking and professional aspect of things. Office holiday parties, even though they are surficially social events, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. At any rate, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: Holiday parties are an ideal opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own section. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. This can be a good opportunity to forge connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can become challenging to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand because of this. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. Maybe you’re concerned they will think you’re incompetent. And that can harm your work reputation. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anyone!
This can be even more challenging because you may not even recognize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear clearly in noisy environments (such as restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first indications of hearing loss.
You could be caught by surprise when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you may be even more surprised.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this take place? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Your ears will usually take 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 never heal and can’t be healed. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that are damaged. In most circumstances, hearing loss like this is permanent (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the injury happens).
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more enjoyable in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. So, you’re thinking: how can I improve my hearing in a noisy environment? You can make that office party smoother and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it will never be perfect. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly quieter.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. By doing this, you can avoid becoming totally exhausted from struggling to hear what’s happening.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication is less effective as your thinking gets blurry. Simply put, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process much smoother.
- 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 make up for any gaps.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: get yourself a pair 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 notice your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Before the party, get your hearing tested
That’s why, if possible, it’s a smart idea to have your hearing tested 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.