Often people with hearing loss and their loved ones believe that their communication difficulties are due only to poor hearing. There are plenty of other factors, however, that can lead to communication breakdowns, such as heavy accents or poor pronunciation, background noise, dim lighting, unfamiliar or unknown topics of conversation, illness, fatigue or cognitive limitations.
Even without hearing loss, factors like those above can cause difficulty with communication. Here are some strategies that can be used to help reduce confusion and prevent breakdowns in conversation:
• If applicable, tell communication partners that you have a hearing loss.
• Ask friends and family to get your attention before speaking to you and to let you know if the topic changes.
• When possible, find a quiet, well-lit room and position yourself close (3 to 6 feet) to the person you are trying to hear.
• When you realize that miscommunication has occurred, notify your conversation partner.
• Saying “Huh?” or “What?” does not always work well to resolve communication issues. Consider asking the speaker to rephrase, or, when asking for repetition, clarify which part of the message you did not understand.
• Check what you heard by repeating the message back to the speaker.
• When possible, ask the speaker to write down important information like addresses, phone numbers and appointment times.
Although it may often seem easier to “nod and smile” and pretend that you have understood what was said, this is likely to increase misunderstandings and has been known to lead to embarrassing situations. It is usually better for everyone involved to proactively address potential communication difficulties using these strategies.
Here are some more specific tips you can use when particular problems arise:
Problem: The speaker is difficult to understand.
Answer: Ask the speaker to speak slowly and to look directly at you. Seeing the speaker’s lips and expressions will help your understanding. Seeing facial expressions and using visual cues can increase understanding of speech up to 20 percent, even for a person with no formal lip-reading training.
Note: People often believe that speaking louder will help the person with hearing loss understand better, but in fact this is not typically the case. Speaking slowly and clearly is much more effective for most individuals.
Problem: Background noise is too loud.
Answer: Move to a quieter location. If you can, pick a quieter restaurant and/or go at an off-hour when it will be less noisy. When dining out, select restaurants with sound-absorbing carpets, curtains, linen tablecloths and booths. Avoid restaurants that have hard floors and bare walls. Turn off or move away from noise sources such as radios, televisions or dishwashers.
Tip: Some restaurant reviews provide information on noise levels. Make use of these when choosing a restaurant.
Problem: You are sick, tired, stressed or distracted.
Answer: Be patient with yourself. It is reasonable to ask for short breaks in meetings to prevent listening fatigue.
If you are experiencing difficulty with communication, seek out the services of an audiologist to discuss appropriate solutions for your life.
By Deanna Iff, Au.D., CCC-A, Hear for Life Audiology