Group of coworkers at office holiday party despite hearing loss

You get to your company’s annual holiday party and you’re immediately bombarded 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 setting. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anybody be enjoying this thing? But as the evening goes on, you see that you’re the only person having difficulty.

For people with hearing loss, this likely sounds familiar. The office holiday party can introduce some unique stressors and consequently, what should be a fun occasion is nothing more than a dour, lonely event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unscathed (and maybe even have some fun at the same time).

Why holiday parties can be stressful

Holiday parties can be a unique combination of fun and stress, (if you’re introverted this is particularly true) even if your hearing is healthy. For individuals who have hearing loss or if you struggle to hear with loud background noise, holiday parties present some unique 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. As a result, they are usually rather noisy events, with lots of people talking over each other all at the same time. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.

For those with hearing loss, this noise creates a certain degree of interference. That’s because:

  • There are so many people talking simultaneously. One of the side effects of hearing loss is that it’s extremely hard to select one voice among overlapping conversations.
  • Talking, music, clinking dishes, laughing, all in the background. Your brain has a hard time separating voices from all of this information.
  • When you have hearing loss, indoor parties like office parties can make it even more difficult to hear because sound can become amplified.

This means anybody with hearing loss will have difficulty hearing and following conversations. This might 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. Office holiday parties, even 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: Holiday parties are a great opportunity to network with employees from other departments or even meet up with co-workers in your own department. It’s a social event, but work will be discussed, so it’s also a networking event. You can use this event to forge new connections. But when you have hearing loss the noise can be overwhelming and it can be challenging to talk with anyone.
  • You can feel isolated: Most people are hesitant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand because of this. Asking family and friends to repeat themselves is one thing but colleagues are a different story. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. Your reputation may be compromised. So, instead, you may simply avoid interactions. No one likes feeling left out.

This can be even more problematic because you may not even know you have hearing loss. The inability to hear clearly in noisy environments (like restaurants or office parties) is often one of those first indications of hearing loss.

As a result, you might be alarmed that you’re having a tough time following the conversation. And you might be even more surprised that you’re the only one.

Hearing loss causes

So how does this occur? How does hearing loss develop? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Essentially, as you age, your ears most likely experience repeated injury as a result of loud noises. The fragile hairs in your ear that detect vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.

These tiny hairs never heal and can’t be healed. And your hearing will keep getting worse the more stereocilia that die. Your best bet will be to protect your hearing while you still have it because this type of hearing loss is typically permanent.

Armed with this knowledge, you can make that holiday party a bit more pleasant in a few ways.

How to enjoy this year’s office party

Your office party presents some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you really want to go. So, when you’re in a loud environment, how can you hear better? Well, here are a few tips to make your office party go a little smoother:

  • Take listening breaks: Take a 15 minute quiet break each hour. This will help stop you from becoming totally exhausted after trying to listen really hard.
  • Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it won’t ever be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in using this technique.
  • Find a less noisy place to have those conversations: Try sitting off to the side or around a corner. When the background noise gets really loud, sitting behind stationary objects can give you little pockets that are slightly less loud.
  • Look at faces: And maybe even spend some time hanging around people who have really expressive faces or hand gestures. You will be able to fill in information gaps using these contextual signals.
  • Avoid drinking too many cocktails: If your thinking starts to get a little fuzzy, it’s likely you’ll be unable to communicate successfully. In other words, avoid the alcohol. It’ll make the whole process a lot smoother.

Of course, there’s an even more ideal option: get fitted for a pair of hearing aids. These hearing aids can be tailored 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.

Before the party, get your hearing tested

That’s why, if possible, it’s a smart idea to have your hearing checked 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!

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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