You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you get to the yearly company holiday party. 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 loud setting, you can’t hear anything. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re completely disoriented. How can anyone be having fun at this thing? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only one having trouble.
For people with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a jolly 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 unharmed (and perhaps even have some fun while you’re at it).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
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. If you struggle to hear when there’s a lot of background noise, holiday parties have distinct stressors.
Most notable is the noise. Think about it like this: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little. In an environment like this, individuals have the tendency to talk at louder volumes and usually all at once. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the boisterous side.
For those with hearing loss, this noise generates a certain degree of interference. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. It’s not easy to isolate one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a difficult time separating voices from all of this information.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties such as office parties can make it even more difficult to hear because sound can become amplified.
This means that picking up and following conversations will be challenging for individuals with hearing loss. At first glance, that might sound like a small thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the professional and networking side of things. Office holiday parties, even though they are surficially social events, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. It’s normally highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. Here are a couple of things to think about:
- You can network: It isn’t uncommon for individuals to network with co-workers 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 a good chance to make connections. But it’s more challenging 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 constantly asking people to repeat what they said? Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand because of this. Even if you ask your family and friends to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s different with co-workers. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation may be damaged. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You might not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. Typically, one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
You could be caught off guard when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And you might be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this take place? How do you develop hearing loss? Most commonly, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Essentially, as you get older, your ears likely experience repeated injury as a consequence of loud noises. The delicate hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.
These little hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And your hearing will continue to get worse the more stereocilia that die. In most cases, hearing loss like this is irreversible (so you’re better off protecting your hearing before the injury takes place).
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less unpleasant!
Tips to make your office party more pleasant
Your office party presents some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you hear better? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
- Avoid drinking too many cocktails: Communication will be less effective as your thinking gets fuzzy. Simply put, steer clear of the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And it will never be perfect. But reading lips might be able to help you make up for some of the gaps.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they talk. The more contextual clues you can get, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Find a quieter place to have those conversations: Try hanging out off to the side or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can neutralize a lot of sound and give you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear better during loud ambient noise.
Naturally, the best possible option is also one of the easiest.: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be discrete and tailored 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
That’s why, if you can, it’s a smart idea to get your hearing assessed before the office holiday party. Due to COVID, this might be your first holiday party in a few years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!