You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you arrive at the annual 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 environment. The punch lines of jokes are missed, you can’t hear conversations and it’s all very disorienting. How can anybody be having fun at this thing? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
For people with hearing loss, this most likely sounds familiar. Unique stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for a person who is coping with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But have no fear! You can get through the next holiday party without difficulty with this little survival guide and maybe you will even enjoy yourself.
Why holiday parties can be stressful
Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a distinct combination 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 have unique stressors.
Most notable is the noise. To put it into perspective: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a little. In a setting like this, people tend to talk at louder volumes and frequently at the same time. Alcohol can absolutely play a part. But it can also be really loud at dry office parties.
For those who have hearing loss, this noise creates a certain level of interference. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. One of the symptoms of hearing loss is that it’s extremely difficult to identify one voice from overlapping conversations.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain can’t always get enough information to isolate voices.
- Indoor events tend to magnify the noise of crowds, meaning an indoor office party is even harder on your ears when you have hearing loss.
This means anyone with hearing loss will have trouble picking up and following conversations. This may not sound like a very big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The professional and networking side of things is where the big deal is. Office holiday parties, even though they are supposed to be social gatherings, a lot of networking occurs and connections are made. At any rate, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:
- You can network: It’s not unusual for people 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 opportunity. You can use this event to forge new connections. But it’s more challenging when you’re dealing with hearing loss and can’t make out what’s happening because of the overwhelming noise.
- You can feel isolated: Most individuals are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” constantly. Isolation and hearing loss frequently go hand and hand because of this. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. Maybe you’re worried they will think you’re not competent. And that can harm your work reputation. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. No one enjoys feeling left out.
You might not even realize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger issue. 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 by surprise when you start to have trouble following conversations. And when you observe you’re the only one, you might be even more alarmed.
Causes of hearing loss
So how does this take place? How do you develop hearing loss? Age and, or noise damage are the most common causes. Essentially, as you get older, your ears likely experience repeated damage as a result of loud noises. The stereocilia (fragile hairs in your ears that sense vibrations) become damaged.
These little hairs won’t heal and can’t be healed. And the more stereocilia that die, the worse your hearing becomes. Your best bet will be to safeguard your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is usually permanent.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more enjoyable in a few ways.
How to enjoy this year’s office party
You’d rather not miss out on the fun and opportunities that are part of that office holiday party. So, you’re thinking: how can I hear better in a noisy setting? You can make that office party better and more enjoyable using these tips:
- Refrain from drinking too many adult beverages: If your thoughts start to get a little blurry, 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: Every hour, take a 15 minute quiet break. This will help stop you from becoming totally exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Find a less noisy place to talk with people: Possibly try sitting on a couch or around a corner. Sometimes, stationary objects can block a lot of noise and offer you a slightly quiet(er) pocket, and you’ll be able to hear more clearly during loud background noise.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And you will most likely never perfect this. 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 really expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual signals.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if you opt for larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Get your hearing assessed before the party
If possible, take a hearing test before you go to the 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.