Group of coworkers at office holiday party despite hearing loss

You’re assaulted by noise as soon as you arrive at the annual company holiday party. You can feel the pumping music, the hum of shouted conversations, and the click of glasses.

It makes you miserable.

In such a noisy environment, you can’t hear a thing. You can’t follow conversations, you can’t hear the punch line of jokes, and you’re totally disoriented. How can anyone be having fun at this thing? But as the evening continues, you see that you’re the only person having trouble.

This most likely sounds familiar for people who suffer from hearing loss. The office holiday party can present some unique stressors and as a result, what should be a jolly affair is nothing more than a dark, lonely event. But don’t worry! This little survival guide can help you make it through your next holiday party unharmed (and maybe even have some fun while you’re at it).

Holiday parties can be stressful, here’s why

Even when you don’t have hearing loss, holiday parties are a unique combination of stress and fun (particularly 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.

Most notable is the noise. Think about it in this way: Holiday parties are your chance to loosen your tie and cut loose. This means they are usually fairly noisy events, with everybody talking over each other all at once. Could alcohol be a component here? absolutely. But it can also be quite loud at dry office parties.

Some interference is created by this, especially for individuals who have hearing loss. Here are some reasons for this:

  • 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 like office parties can make it even more difficult to hear because sound can become amplified.

This means that hearing and following conversations will be challenging for people with hearing loss. This might not sound like a 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, though they are supposed to be social gatherings, a lot of networking is done and connections are made. In any event, attendance is often encouraged, so here we are. This means a couple of things:

  • You can network: It isn’t uncommon for individuals to network with co-workers from their own and other departments at these holiday parties. People will still talk shop, even though it’s a social event it’s also a networking opportunity. You can use this event to make new connections. But it’s harder when you have hearing loss and can’t understand what’s happening because of the overpowering noise.
  • You can feel isolated: Most people are reluctant to be the one that says “what?” all the time. Isolation and hearing loss often go hand and hand because of this. Asking friends and family to repeat themselves is one thing but co-workers are a different story. They might mistake your hearing loss for incompetence. And that can damage your work reputation. So, instead, you might simply avoid interactions. No one likes feeling left out.

This can be even more problematic because you might not even recognize you have hearing loss. The inability to hear well in noisy settings (like restaurants or office parties) is usually one of those first indications of hearing loss.

You may be caught by surprise when you begin to have trouble following conversations. And when you notice you’re the only one, you might be even more alarmed.

Hearing loss causes

So what is the cause of this? How does hearing loss happen? Age and, or noise damage are the most prevalent causes. Your ears will normally experience repeated damage from loud noise as you age. The delicate hairs in your ear that sense vibrations (called stereocilia) become damaged.

That injury is permanent. 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 typically irreversible.

With this knowledge, there are ways you can make your holiday office party a little less uncomfortable!

How to enjoy this year’s office party

Your office party presents some significant opportunities (and fun!), so you’d rather not skip out. So, you’re thinking: how can I improve my hearing in a noisy setting? You can make that office party smoother and more enjoyable using these tips:

  • Find a quieter place to talk with people: 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.
  • Keep the alcohol drinking to a minimum: Communication is less successful as your thinking gets fuzzy. The whole thing will be a lot easier if you go easy on the drinking.
  • Try to read lips: You will get better at this the more you practice. And it will never be perfect. But some gaps can be filled in with this technique.
  • Look at faces: Try to spend time with people who have really expressive faces and hand gestures when they speak. The more context clues you can get, the more you can fill in any gaps.
  • Take listening breaks: Every hour, give yourself a 15 minute quiet break. In this way, you can prevent yourself from becoming totally exhausted from straining to hear what’s going on.

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 your hearing aids aren’t small, you’d rather people see your hearing aids than your hearing loss.

Before the party, get your hearing checked

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 sneak up and surprise you.

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