Thank you for spending so much time with me to maximize the help I get from the new hearing aids! My life is much easier and more enjoyable now!
Many people believe that communication is the most important aspect in maintaining a healthy relationship, romantic or otherwise, and a strong, healthy relationship can be one of the best supports in life. Communication is problematic for every human being from time to time and hearing loss adds a complexity to communicating with others. This barrier can be overcome by assessing how you interact with conversation partners, getting the listening tools appropriate for your lifestyle, and advocating for your communication needs. Communicating well is a skill and can be learned and practiced.
1. Assess your communication style
- My listening preferences: Am I outgoing? Do I prefer one-on-one conversations because I can’t hear in a group setting? Do my conversations tend toward monologue or dialogue? Do I understand what others are saying? Do they seem to understand what I say and respond appropriately? Do I repeat back what was said to verify I heard the information correctly? Do I have difficulty understanding conversations in background noise? Do people I know or people I meet notice that I have a hearing loss? Do I try to talk over background noise or do I try to change my listening environment to meet my needs? Do I have difficulty concentrating on the topic of conversation?
- Using my body to communicate: Do I make eye contact? Do I face the listener? Do I try to communicate from another room by shouting? Do I use body language when communicating to add clarity?
- If you have a hearing loss, acknowledge it and learn about it. This is the best way to develop communication goals and to meet them.
- Sometimes there is a misconception that hearing aids are a “cure-all” for those with hearing loss but improving communication involves a rehabilitation process, in which the hearing aid is a vital part.
2. Assess the listening environment
- Is there significant background noise? Are there visual or auditory distractions? Can my conversation partner and I see each other’s faces clearly? Am I far away from my conversation partner?
- Reducing background noise improves clarity in speech understanding.
- Suggest moving to a quiet location.
- Listeners with hearing loss draw visual cues from the lips and face, as well as gestures. Reduce the distance between you and the listener and avoid visual obstructions, such as large centerpieces, so people involved in the conversation can see each other’s faces.
- Good lighting is also essential for adding facial cues to the conversation.
- Plan ahead – think about challenges in the listening environment and consider possible solutions (example: requesting a quieter table in a restaurant).
3. Assess communication styles of people you have relationships with
- Their listening preferences: Do they prefer one-on-one conversations because they can’t hear in a group setting? Do they seem to understand what I say and respond appropriately? Do they have difficulty understanding conversations in background noise? Do they try to talk over background noise? Do they cover their mouth when they speak? If a conversation is difficult, do they recommend ways to improve the environment for improved communication?
- Using their body to communicate: Do they tend to make eye contact? Do they face you when speaking? Do they try to communicate from another room by shouting? Do they use body language when communicating to add clarity?
- Ask those you care about how your hearing loss affects them.
- Include family members or significant people in your life in appointments with your audiologist. This allows your communications partner to understand the hearing difficulties you are encountering and how they play a role in facilitating communication.
- Note: You can show them the tips listed below for those communicating with someone who has a hearing loss. Use this as a guide to talk about your communication needs and preferences.
4. Get the tools you need
- Adjusting to amplification can be challenging because you are relearning to hear. People are often surprised when they hear birds, appliances, and distant laughter for the first time in years. Your brain has not been receiving these sounds for the duration of your hearing loss so the sudden introduction to these sounds may be overwhelming at first. Some people adjust immediately to these new sounds while others take weeks or months. Different listening environments present different challenges and rewards; as your brain relearns to hear you will find communication will become increasingly easier.
- Including loved ones throughout the rehabilitation process is advised so you can find the rehabilitative options that work best for your unique communication needs.
- Hearing aids provide custom-tailored amplification for your hearing loss and are available in many levels of technology and at many price points.
- Assistive listening devices allow you to connect to your cell phone, television, or stereo directly to hearing aids using a variety of technologies.
- Our ALD Specialist can advise you on assistive technology such as amplified telephones, vibrating bed alarms, and flashing fire alarms.
- Aural rehabilitation is provided at Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center by licensed speech and language pathologists. This useful therapy helps hearing aid users to adjust to new sounds.
- Communication classes for conversation partners are available at Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center. These wonderful classes are taught by licensed speech and language pathologists to help conversation partners to learn methods to improve successful communication.
5. Advocate for yourself—tell others how they can communicate with you effectively
- Be assertive and clear when explaining what you need. Explaining to others how they can best talk with you is not rude; it is a bridge to better communication and better relationships.
- Repeating or confirming what you understood can prevent confusion later on.
- Pretending you understand when you don’t can be frustrating and embarrassing for everyone. Acknowledge your hearing loss and ask people to look directly at you when talking and to speak clearly. If the person you are talking with knows that you have hearing difficulties you can reduce misunderstandings if you do not respond appropriately or if it seems as if you are ignoring them.
- Avoid saying “Huh?” or “Say again?” when you have heard at least part of what the speaker was saying. Instead, try saying something like “I know you were talking about shopping but I didn’t hear where you ended up getting the dress”. This way, the talker does not have to repeat everything that was said.
- Try to make specific requests. If your conversation partner faces away from you while talking, don’t say, “What?”. Instead, use a specific request such as “Please face toward me when you speak”. Do they have a soft voice? Rather than saying, “Say again?” try asking them to “speak a little louder please”. If they are talking with their hand over their mouth, say “Could you please put your hand down?” instead of “I can’t make out what you’re saying”.
- Watch the speaker’s face. You can get a great deal of help by picking up visual cues from the speaker’s face. Did the speaker say, “I need more sun”? Or was it “I need more fun”? Watch the person’s face and you may be able to figure it out because “sun” and “fun” look different on the lips.
6. Communicating at work
- It is ideal when there is a corporate climate where hearing loss is recognized so those with hidden hearing loss feel more comfortable and can request accommodation. If your work environment is not this supportive, consider meeting with your human resources department to request some of the following accommodations where appropriate:
- Avoid noisy restaurants as meeting locations.
- Summarize meeting minutes in writing to be sure that those with hearing issues are clear on the outcome of the meeting (these are likely useful for everyone at the table regardless of hearing).
- Not all accommodations are complicated. Moving an employee’s desk away from noisy hallways, machines, or air conditioning and heating vents, or installing an amplified phone can make a major difference.
- There may be assistive listening devices that work directly with your hearing aids that would be useful for tricky listening situations and/or meetings.
- Choose cubicles with noise-absorbent materials and equip meeting rooms with an inductive loop that creates a wireless zone for hearing aids with telecoils to begin to build a work environment that facilitates better hearing and communication.
- The Department of Vocational Rehabilitation is a wonderful resource for help with getting and/or maintaining employment when a potential barrier, such as hearing loss, exists.
7. Be patient with yourself and others
- Be patient. Be patient with yourself, your family, your friends, and with people you communicate with throughout the day. Staying cheerful helps to keep your encounters positive and more likely to go well.
8. Tips for those communicating with someone who has a hearing loss
- If they are not looking at you, get the listener’s attention before speaking. Say the person’s name or wave your hand gently in their field of view.
- Do not shout! Shouting distorts the face and makes you look angry.
- Speak clearly and moderately. Say the “ends” of all your words. Rather than “How’r ya feelin t’day?” say “How are you feeling today?”.
- Do not cover your mouth or speak with objects in it. Objects in front of the mouth block visual speech cues on the face.
- Use gestures or sign language when talking. Gestures help with understanding. For example, if asking “What time is it?”, point to your watch.
- American Sign Language (ASL) is useful and interesting to learn, and can connect you with a larger Deaf and hard of hearing community; take a class at a local community college.
- Re-phrase rather than repeat. If the listener didn’t understand the first time, specific words may be difficult; try saying it a different way.
- Be patient. It is just as frustrating for the listener who has hearing loss as it is for you when there is a breakdown in understanding; share the responsibility and it will be easier for everyone involved.
- Pausing between phrases will help the listener have time to process what you are saying.
- Realize that it can be a strain for people with hearing difficulties to listen for long periods of time. Try to appreciate that those who have to pay extra attention during conversations will often tire more easily than other listeners.
- The best way to speak clearly for people with hearing loss is to face them, speak a little bit more slowly than usual, a little bit more loudly than usual, and with natural voice intonation rather than in monotone. Try not to cover your mouth when you are talking, because that prevents your partner from taking advantage of facial speech cues.
- When giving directions, such as where and when to meet, ask your partner who has a hearing loss if they are clear on the directions by asking if that made sense or if they’d like to repeat it back to verify.
- Keep in mind that although it may be difficult for you to converse with someone who has a hearing loss, it is even a greater challenge for that person. Be patient, use positive communication strategies, and keep working at successful communication.
Getting my hearing aids was a miracle in my life! Now I find a great deal of satisfaction in going out to coffee with friends, and am once again listening to music. TV watching has become a pleasure, but I’m too busy going to concerts, to the Japanese Gardens to hear waterfalls, and listening to the birds singing in the trees as I walk my dog. I had thought those birds had disappeared because of pollution and had no idea that I just couldn’t hear them! I am not so depressed as I thought I was, and now have more energy and self-esteem and am able to pick up some of my old activities, like attending singing camp retreats. It’s like a new lease on life – a whole new world! How can I thank you enough for giving me my life back? There are really no adequate words. Thank you so very, very much!
The Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center gives presentations to groups on a variety of topics related to hearing loss. Additionally, we are in the process of scheduling the next series of classes offered at HSDC. Please contact our Audiology Clinic if you would like to learn more about upcoming classes at HSDC or to schedule a presentation.
- Aural rehabilitation
- Speech reading and lipreading
- Communication strategies for hard of hearing people
- How to interpret an audiogram (hearing test results)
- Assistive listening devices
- Hearing aid technology
Begin your journey to better communication today. Contact Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center for your evaluation.