You’re bombarded by noise as soon as you arrive at the annual company holiday party. You can feel the beat of the music, the thrum of shouted conversations, and the clattering of glasses.
It makes you miserable.
In such a loud setting, you can’t hear anything. You can’t keep up with conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of any joke, and you’re totally disoriented. How can this be enjoyable for anyone? But then you look around and notice that you’re the only person that seems to be having trouble.
This likely sounds familiar for people who suffer from hearing loss. Unique stressors can be presented at a holiday office party and for a person with hearing loss, that can make it a lonely, dark event. But have no fear! This little survival guide can help you get through your next holiday party unharmed (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 (especially if you’re an introvert). For those with hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties provide some unique stressors.
The noise itself is the most prominent. Think about it in this way: a holiday party is your team’s opportunity to let loose a bit. In a setting like this, individuals have the tendency to talk at higher volumes and often all at once. Could alcohol be a factor here? Yes, yes it can. But even dry office parties can get to be a little on the boisterous side.
For those with hearing loss, this noise generates a certain level of interference. That’s because:
- There are so many people talking at the same time. It’s not easy to pick out one voice from many when you’re dealing with hearing loss.
- Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain doesn’t always get enough information to isolate 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 anyone with hearing loss will experience difficulty hearing and following conversations. This may not sound like a very big deal at first.
So… What is the big deal?
The big deal is in the professional and networking aspect of things. Although 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’s not uncommon for people to network with colleagues from their own and other departments at these holiday events. It’s a social event, but people will still talk shop, so it’s also a networking event. This can be a fantastic chance to forge connections. But it’s much harder when you have hearing loss and can’t understand what’s going on because of the overpowering noise.
- You can feel isolated: Who wants to be that person who’s always asking people to repeat themselves? This is one reason why hearing loss and isolation often go hand-in-hand. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation could be damaged. So maybe you just avoid interaction instead. No one likes feeling left out.
You might not even recognize that you have hearing loss, which will make this an even bigger challenge. 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 you might be even more surprised that you’re the only one.
Hearing loss causes
So how does this happen? How does hearing loss develop? Usually, it’s the result of age or noise damage (or age and noise damage). Your ears will normally take repeated damage from loud noise as you age. The tiny hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become compromised.
That injury is permanent. And the more stereocilia that kick the bucket, the worse your hearing becomes. In most cases, this type of hearing loss is permanent (so you’re better off safeguarding your hearing before the damage occurs).
With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a bit less unpleasant!
Tips to make your office party more enjoyable
You don’t want to miss out on the fun and opportunities that come along with that office holiday party. So, when you’re in a noisy setting, how can you hear better? Well, here are some tips to make your office party go a little better:
- Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. This will help stop you from getting completely exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
- Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: 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.
- Look at faces: And possibly even spend some time hanging around people who have very expressive faces or hand gestures. The more context clues you can get, the more you can make up for any gaps.
- Find a less noisy place to have those conversations: Possibly 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 background noise.
- Try to read lips: This can take a little practice (and good lighting). And you will probably never perfect this. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
Of course, there’s an even more ideal solution: get yourself a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be customized to your hearing needs, and they can also be subtle. Even if you go with larger hearing aids it will still be better than asking people to repeat themselves.
Before the party, get your hearing tested
If possible, get a hearing test before you go to the party. Because of COVID, this might be your first holiday party in several years, and you don’t want to be surprised by your hearing issues!