You get to your company’s annual holiday party and you’re instantly assaulted by noise. You can feel the pumping music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
You can’t hear anything in this noisy setting. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all extremely disorienting. How can this be fun for anyone? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having difficulty.
For people who suffer from hearing loss, this likely sounds familiar. Distinct stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for somebody with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unharmed (and maybe even have some fun while you’re at it).
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties can be a unique combination of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. For individuals with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties present some 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. In an environment like this, individuals tend to talk at higher volumes and often at the same time. Alcohol can definitely play a part. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the unruly side.
Some interference is created by this, especially for individuals with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- Office parties include tons of people all talking over each other. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s very hard to identify one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. 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 harder on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means anyone with hearing loss will experience difficulty picking up and following conversations. This might not sound like a very 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, though they are supposed to be social gatherings, a lot of networking takes place and connections are made. It’s normally highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. 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. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking occasion. This can be an excellent chance to make connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can become hard to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s constantly asking people to repeat what they said? Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand because of this. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation may be damaged. So maybe you simply avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a great feeling for anybody!
You might not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. The inability to hear well in noisy settings (such as restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first indications of hearing loss.
You may be caught by surprise when you start to have difficulty following conversations. And when you notice you’re the only one, you might be even more alarmed.
Causes of hearing loss
So what is the cause of this? How do you develop hearing loss? Most commonly, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will usually experience repeated injury from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (fragile hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become compromised.
That injury is permanent. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing will be. In most circumstances, this type of hearing loss is permanent (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the damage takes place).
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more pleasant in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more fun
Your office party presents some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, you’re thinking: how can I improve my hearing in a noisy environment? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: If your thoughts start to get a little fuzzy, it’s a good bet you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time hanging around people who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be able to fill in comprehension gaps using these contextual signals.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from becoming completely exhausted after having to listen really hard.
- Find a less noisy place to talk with people: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the background noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: invest in a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. 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, take a hearing test before you go to the party. Due to COVID, this might be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!