You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you arrive at the yearly company holiday party. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the throbbing beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
You can’t hear a thing in this loud setting. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t make out conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can anyone be enjoying this thing? But then you look around and see that you’re the only one that seems to be having difficulty.
This probably sounds familiar for people who suffer from hearing loss. Distinct stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for someone with hearing loss, that can make it a solitary, dark event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unscathed (and perhaps even have some fun at the same time).
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a distinct mix of stress and fun (particularly if you’re an introvert). If you struggle to hear when there’s a lot of background noise, holiday parties come with distinct stressors.
The noise itself is the most prominent. To put it into perspective: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. This means they tend to be fairly noisy affairs, with everyone talking over each other all at once. Alcohol can certainly play a part. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is created by this, especially for individuals who have hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s extremely difficult to identify one voice from overlapping discussions.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to pick out voices.
- Indoor gatherings tend to amplify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you are dealing with hearing loss.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be challenging for people who have hearing loss. This might not sound like a big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is the networking and professional side of things. Office holiday parties, though they are supposed to be social gatherings, 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 a great opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own department. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. You can use this event to make new connections. But it’s much harder when you have hearing loss and can’t understand what’s going on because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. 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 colleagues. Perhaps you’re concerned they will think you’re not competent. And that can damage your work reputation. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. You’ll feel excluded and left behind, and that’s not a fun feeling for anybody!
This can be even more problematic because you might not even know you have hearing loss. Usually, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
You may be caught off guard when you begin to have difficulty following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more concerned.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this take place? How does hearing loss happen? Most commonly, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will usually take repeated damage from loud noise as you age. 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 the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, the worse your hearing becomes. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this kind of hearing loss is usually irreversible.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more comfortable in a few ways.
Tips to make your office party more enjoyable
You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. So, when you’re in a loud setting, how can you hear better? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable with these tips:
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can avoid becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.
- Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And you will most likely never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Find a less noisy place to talk with people: Maybe try sitting on a couch or around a corner. In some cases, stationary objects can block a lot of sound and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud ambient noise.
- Avoid drinking too many adult beverages: Communication is less effective as your thinking gets fuzzy. The whole thing will be much easier if you take it easy on the drinking.
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time hanging around individuals who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be able to fill in comprehension gaps using these contextual clues.
Naturally, the best possible option is also one of the easiest.: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. Even if your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.
Get your hearing checked before the party
That’s why, if you can, it’s a smart idea to get your hearing tested before the office holiday party. Because of COVID, this may be your first holiday party in a few years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!