You get to your company’s annual holiday party and you’re instantly assaulted by noise. You can feel the pumping music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.
You’re not enjoying it at all.
You can’t hear a thing in this noisy setting. The punch lines of jokes are getting lost, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all really disorienting. How can anybody be enjoying this thing? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only one having difficulty.
For individuals who suffer from 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 dour, solitary event. But don’t worry! You can make it through the next holiday party without a problem with this little survival guide and maybe you will even enjoy yourself.
Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why
Holiday parties can be a unique blend 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 unique stressors.
First and foremost is the noise. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a bit. In a setting like this, people have the tendency to talk at higher volumes and often all at once. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.
Some interference is generated by this, especially for people who have hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. 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 has a difficult time separating voices from all of this information.
- Indoor gatherings tend to boost the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even tougher on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means anyone with hearing loss will experience trouble picking up and following conversations. At first look, that may sound like a minor thing.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the networking and professional side of things. Even though office holiday parties are theoretically social events, they’re also professional events. 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 people to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. This can be a good opportunity to forge connections. But it’s harder when you have hearing loss and can’t make out what’s going on because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are reluctant 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 not the same with co-workers. Maybe you’re concerned they will think you’re incompetent. Your reputation could be compromised. So maybe you just avoid interaction instead. No one enjoys feeling left out.
This can be even more troublesome because you might not even know you have hearing loss. Typically, one of the first indications of hearing loss is the inability to hear in crowded settings (like office parties or crowded restaurants).
As a result, you might be surprised that you’re having a hard time following the conversation. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more concerned.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this occur? How do you develop hearing loss? Typically, it’s due to age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will normally experience repeated injury from loud noise as you age. The stereocilia (tiny hairs in your ears that detect vibrations) become compromised.
These little hairs won’t heal and can’t be repaired. And the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, the worse your hearing will be. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is usually irreversible.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a little more pleasant in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
Your office party offers some considerable opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, you’re thinking: how can I improve my hearing in a noisy setting? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Look at faces: Try to spend time with individuals who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more context clues you can get, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And it won’t ever be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
- Refrain from drinking too many adult beverages: If your thoughts start to get a little fuzzy, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you go easy on the drinking.
- Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. This will help prevent you from becoming completely exhausted after having to listen really hard.
- Have conversations in quieter locations: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. When the background noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can provide little pockets that are slightly less loud.
Of course, the best possible solution is also one of the simplest.: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be subtle and tailored 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
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. You might not have been to a party since before COVID and you don’t want hearing loss to catch you off guard.