You arrive at your company’s annual holiday party and you’re instantly bombarded by noise. You can feel the beat of the music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
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 any joke, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anybody be enjoying this thing? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only one having trouble.
This likely sounds familiar for people who suffer from hearing loss. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a jolly occasion is nothing more than a dour, solitary 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).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique combination of stress and fun (especially if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there’s a lot of background noise, holiday parties have unique stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. Think about it like this: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a bit. As a result, they tend to be fairly noisy events, with everybody talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a component here? Yes, yes it can. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise creates a certain level of interference. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. It’s not easy to pick out one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Plenty of background noise, laughing, clanking dishes, music, and so on. Your brain has a hard time isolating 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 tends to become amplified.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be challenging for people who have hearing loss. At first glance, that may sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the professional and networking aspect of things. Even though office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. It’s normally 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 isn’t uncommon for people 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. You can use this event to forge new connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can be challenging to talk with anyone.
- You can feel isolated: Most people are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand for this reason. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can harm your work reputation. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. You’ll feel left out and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anyone!
This can be even more troublesome because you may not even know you have hearing loss. Usually, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you may be alarmed that you’re having a difficult time following the conversation. And you may be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss happen? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Your ears will typically take repeated injury from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (delicate hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become damaged.
That injury is permanent. And the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, the worse your hearing becomes. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is usually irreversible.
Knowing all that, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party offers some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a noisy environment, how can you improve your ability to hear? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And you will probably never perfect this. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more contextual clues you can get, the more you can fill in any gaps.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help stop you from getting completely exhausted after having to listen really hard.
- Avoid drinking too many adult beverages: If your thoughts start to get a little blurry, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
Naturally, the best possible option is also one of the easiest.: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be tailored to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. Even if you opt for 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. Because of COVID, this might be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!