Party Survival 101

Larry Guterman
October 24, 2018

Parties. Events.  When you have hearing loss, you know the deal: Can’t go to ‘em (because they’re too loud), can’t miss ‘em (need to constantly network for work). What to do?

Let me back up. I happen to work in an industry that puts a premium on personal connections. The film industry. The ability to engage with others and build relationships is vital. It’s not about email, texting, Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram. It all happens through honest-to-goodness, face-to-face human interaction.

But no matter what your job, there are times when it’s important to socialize, whether that means a company picnic or an after-work Happy Hour.

So what do you do when it’s important to network and expand your work opportunities at a get-together, but the chances that you’ll be able to understand anything anyone is saying are next to nothing?

When you arrive at most events, there is going to be booming music in the main room.  You can’t go into that room. If you go into that room for one hour, you could lose another 5% of your hearing for eternity.

That’s a Faustian bargain you probably don’t want to make.

What about the outer rooms?  Or perhaps there’s an outdoor patio. Sure. Go to the patio.

That’s where everyone is talking incredibly loudly because even those with perfect hearing can barely catch what the other one is saying. It’s like they’re trapped in a hyper-feedback loop.  If they all just talked quietly, they’d be able to hear each other—but it’s never like that, is it?

So you walk into the patio area, and although to most people with good hearing, things don’t  sound that loud, to you, well…it’s 100 effing chainsaws roaring next to your head.

Wearing hearing aids in that situation?  Kind of like asking for someone to turn on the lights during a 10-megaton nuclear cloudburst.  It doesn’t really help see the mushroom cloud.

Reverse Psychology

Ironically, one of the tricks of the trade I use that comes in handy…is to do precisely the opposite.  Take out my hearing aids.  Why, you may ask?

You may have heard of the “cocktail party effect.”  It’s the phenomenon wherein people with normal hearing have the ability to filter out all the background chatter and then zero in and hear only the person talking to them, even when there are people yapping all around them.

It’s a brain thing. And for complex neurological reasons, people with hearing loss lose that ability.

As an aside, some smart folks are trying to model the ability algorithmically, using deep neural network techniques, and train patients to regain it. But right now, there is no solution for this problem. And if you’re wearing your hearing aids, all the background noise is simply amplified, masking the foreground speech of the person you’re trying to understand.

It’s terrible, and it’s frustrating.  And if you’re talking to someone who may be in a position to help you or hire you for your next gig, or be a buyer for whatever you’re selling, forget about it. You’re probably starting to have a panic attack at this point.

However…if you have moderate, severe, or profound loss, and you take out your hearing aids, two things happen immediately.

One, all the background noise drops way down.   You’re deaf—what did you expect? (Hey, I’m right there with you!)

And two, the person you’re talking to is STILL SHOUTING at you because everyone else on the goddamned patio is still shouting.

Why This Works

Now you’ve got a bit of an advantage – nice freebie, right? With your hearing aids out, the background noise has faded away, and the person you’re talking to is still over-enunciating their words as they yell, their lip movement working overtime to boot. It’s almost as if you were in a quiet room with an extremely sensitive and doting audiologist talking to you like you were the world’s most important patient.   You’re getting the Mother Teresa treatment from your party companion!

And there, at the noisy party, you can suddenly understand them—well, at least as well as any of those people with normal hearing can. And if you ask someone to repeat a comment 3 times during your 5-minute conversation, no one will care.

What’s more, you just may be able to make that important connection, land that gig, or bond with your colleagues as well as anyone there without hearing loss.

So take my advice and try removing your hearing aids next time you socialize in a really noisy setting. Want another Larry-tested tip? I’ll have one for you next time.