You arrive at your company’s yearly holiday party and you’re immediately assaulted by noise. The din of shouted conversations, the clanging of glasses, and the pulsating beat of music are all mixing in your ears.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
You can’t hear a thing in this noisy environment. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re completely disoriented. How can anyone be enjoying this thing? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only person having trouble.
For individuals with hearing loss, this probably sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be introduced at a holiday office party and for someone with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you make it 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 blend of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is especially true) even if your hearing is healthy. For those who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties present some unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. Think about it in this way: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little. This means they are usually rather noisy affairs, with everyone talking over each other all at once. Alcohol can definitely play a part. But even dry office parties can be a little on the boisterous side.
Some interference is produced by this, particularly for people with hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking simultaneously. It’s difficult to isolate one voice from many when you have hearing loss.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to pick out voices.
- When you have hearing loss, indoor parties such as office parties can make it even more difficult to hear because sound tends to become amplified.
This means that hearing and following conversations will be challenging for individuals who have hearing loss. This may 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 occurs and connections are made. 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 uncommon for individuals to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday events. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. This can be a fantastic occasion to make 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?” all the time. This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation frequently go hand-in-hand. Even if you ask your friends and family to occasionally repeat themselves, it’s different with co-workers. Perhaps you’re concerned they will think you’re incompetent. And that can damage your work reputation. So perhaps you just avoid interaction instead. No one likes feeling left out.
You may not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger problem. Usually, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (such as office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you might be surprised that you’re having difficulty following the conversation. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more surprised.
Causes of hearing loss
So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss develop? Usually, it’s caused by age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will typically take repeated injury from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (fragile hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become compromised.
These tiny hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing becomes. In most instances, hearing loss like this is irreversible (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the damage takes place).
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!
Tips to make your office party more enjoyable
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 setting, how can you hear better? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time hanging around individuals who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be capable of filling in comprehension gaps using these contextual signals.
- Refrain from drinking too many cocktails: If your thinking starts 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 go easy on the drinking.
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help prevent you from becoming totally exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Try to read lips: This can take some practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
- Have conversations in quieter places: Maybe try sitting on a couch 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 solution is also one of the easiest.: invest in a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be personalized to your hearing needs, and they can also be discrete. Even if you pick larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
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 may be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your inability to hear!