It is a well-studied phenomenon that hearing loss interferes in personal relationships. As communication becomes more difficult, friends, partners and loved ones can experience frustration just as much as the person who has hearing loss. For communication to be effective, all parties must participate in facilitating better communication styles. It’s not simply enough for the person with hearing loss to get hearing aids, or the people with normal hearing to “stop mumbling.”
By keeping some things in mind, everyone can be understood, allowing our relationships to deepen and communication to flow freely, even while hearing loss is at play. If you have a partner, friend, loved one or co-worker with hearing loss, keep these tips in mind and you’ll be sure to have more successful communication going forward. In addition, be sure to ask the hearing-impaired person if there’s anything you can do that they have found to be especially helpful in conversation.
Visual communication is extra important for those with hearing loss. We usually rely somewhat on body language and facial cues in the course of a conversation, but these become even more important when hearing loss is an issue. People with hearing loss also tend to start reading lips. Make sure to face the person with hearing loss directly, rather than trying to speak into their ears. It’s more important that they see your face than that they hear your voice a little bit louder, which might only make their hearing aid distort.
Make sure there’s plenty of light, and if it is directional, make sure it is shining on your face, not the hearing-impaired person’s face.
Keep your hands from blocking your face. Eating, chewing gum, smoking, or otherwise occupying or covering your mouth while you talk is going to make it more difficult for the hearing-impaired person to understand you. Keep in mind that beards and mustaches may also reduce a hearing-impaired person’s ability to understand you.
Facemasks make communicating with the hearing impaired much more difficult. While it is important to use facemasks in order to prevent the spread of disease, it may be more helpful to back up a few feet in order to achieve social distance, rather than to sit closer while wearing a mask. Ask the hearing-impaired person their preference on this issue.
Don’t try to speak from another room. Always make sure you have the hearing-impaired person’s attention before you begin communicating. Say their name and wait for a response, or gently tap them on the shoulder. Don’t start speaking until you’re facing one another.
Enunciate, but do not break into a shout. You can speak louder than normal, but use a speaking voice. Shouting can distort hearing aids and make your words more difficult to understand. Shouting also makes your mouth look different, which will make it harder to read your lips.
Speak slowly, but do not draw out your words. Just add a little extra space between them.
If you’re communicating a lot of information, add small breaks between sentences. Periodically, ask the hearing-impaired person if they’re following what you’re saying. They may need you to say something again, so give them space to ask for that.
If the hearing-impaired person has asked you to repeat something you’ve said, try saying it in a different way rather than simply repeating the same word or phrase more loudly. By changing up your phrasing, you’re giving the person with hearing loss more “raw material” to use to put together the context clues and understand what you’re getting at.
Hearing loss makes it much more difficult to understand speech when there is background noise. Even a small amount of hearing loss will be much more difficult for a person when there is noise. Try to have important or longer conversations in a quiet, well-lit area. If you’re in a loud group setting and need to communicate something important, ask the hearing-impaired person to move to a quieter space with you.
Hearing loss can paradoxically make people more sensitive to loud sounds. This happens because of a phenomenon called “recruitment” that happens in the inner ear. Be aware that especially loud sounds may be really uncomfortable for a hearing-impaired person.
If you’re providing specific information—such as an address, telephone number, date, etc.—write it down whenever possible. If you can’t provide a hard copy of the information, ask the hearing-impaired person to repeat it back to you so you can make sure they’ve understood correctly. Many numbers, such as “fifteen” and “fifty,” sound very similar and are easily confused.
Hearing loss is exhausting. Understand that a person with hearing loss is working much harder than a normal-hearing person to keep up a conversation. They will likely become tired sooner.
If you or a loved one is dealing with hearing loss and has not had a hearing test or evaluation to determine if hearing aids would be recommended, make an appointment today. Hearing aids are an excellent way to make communication much, much easier when hearing loss is an issue. Find out what they can do to improve your communication, relationships, and life today!