You arrive at your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re immediately assaulted by noise. You can feel the beat of the music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
You can’t hear anything in this loud environment. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anyone be having fun at this thing? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having difficulty.
For individuals who suffer from hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a jolly affair is nothing more than a dark, solitary event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unharmed (and perhaps even have some fun at the same time).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Holiday parties are usually a unique mix 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’s a lot of background noise, holiday parties have unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s chance to let loose a little bit. As a result, they are usually fairly noisy affairs, with lots of people talking over each other all at once. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is created by this, particularly for people who have hearing loss. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. It’s difficult to pick out one voice from many when you have 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 harder to hear because sound tends to become amplified.
This means anyone with hearing loss will have trouble picking up and following conversations. This may not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Although office holiday parties are social events in theory, they’re also professional events. It’s usually highly encouraged to attend these events so we’ll probably be there. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It isn’t unusual for individuals to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday events. Work will be discussed, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. You can use this event to forge new connections. But when you’re dealing with hearing loss the noise can be overpowering 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 for this reason. Even if you ask your friends and family to sometimes repeat themselves, it’s not the same with colleagues. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation may be damaged. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You may not even know that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger issue. 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 hard time following the conversation. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more surprised.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this happen? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Your ears will usually experience repeated injury from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become compromised.
That damage is permanent. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing becomes. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is typically permanent.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more enjoyable in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more fun
You don’t want to miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. So, when you’re in a noisy environment, how can you hear better? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:
- Try to read lips: You will improve the more you practice. And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Have conversations in quieter spots: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the ambient noise gets too loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
- 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. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have very expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more context clues you can pick up, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. This will help stop you from getting completely exhausted after having to listen really hard.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and personalized to your particular 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 tested before the party
That’s why, if you can, it’s a good idea to have your hearing tested before the office holiday 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.