“Ex-CUSE me? I most certainly do not!”
”Why are you raising your voice….and what is it that you most certainly don’t?”
“Oh, very funny….you know… what you just said…about what I do…because of my hearing loss!”
“What? All I said is sometimes you get things wrong, you don’t hear them right, especially when you’re upset…like now.”
“Oh, like you don’t? You implied that because I mis-hear some things, I make all conversations difficult.”
“No, not all. But you have to admit that when you come out swinging at something you thought you heard, it can bung everything up.”
“Do you think I like having this hearing loss? Don’t you think that I’m trying my best, every minute of the day, to understand what’s going on, to keep up? Do you know how draining that is? Do you?! And it doesn’t help when, in the middle of a conversation, you turn away as you say something….”
“Why don’t we calm down and…”
“Don’t you tell me to calm down, you insensitive thug. You just don’t care…”
The above argument was not between the Hearing Husband and me. But it is typical of arguments that can churn up all the frustrations related to living with hearing loss, and in this boxing match, there are three participants. In this corner, we have the Person with Hearing Loss, 120 pounds of defensiveness. In the opposite corner we have the Hearing Family Member, 200 pounds of frustrations. And lurking in one of the other corners we have the hulking Hearing Loss of no fixed weight. The referee has a tough job because this ongoing match may have endless daily rounds – and his invisibility makes it difficult to enforce the Rules of Engagement & Good Communication.
The above argument was about hearing loss, but the more common arguments or negative interactions are those that start with our reaction to something we assume we’ve heard correctly.
Me (calling to my son, sitting with his back to me in the living room, playing his guitar): Joel, didn’t I ask you to come and finish these dishes?
Joel: Mom, I….mrgb-ll-brngrvich….
Me: No, you can’t do them later, they need to be done now. Why do I always have to ask you three times to do something?
Joel (arriving in kitchen): Mom! I didn’t say I’d do them later, I said sorry mom, I’m coming now – and here I am.
Me: Oh. Sorry, honey, I misheard you.
Even though we’ve both used the word sorry, we are both feeling irritated. And although I usually did have to nag him to get something done, I’m also embarrassed, because by speaking to his back I broke my own rules of communication and set myself up for failure.
Regardless of whether hearing loss is an argument’s subject or its cause – using the invisible referee’s rules can diffuse a heated discussion and prevent an all-out battle.
- Always fight facing each other. For a fair fight, it’s not mano-a-mano, but eyeball-to-eyeball. Hearing people who make comments with their face not visible – if they turn away – will be disqualified. People with hearing loss who use such tactics will receive a warning and a reminder to practice what they preach.
- If asked to repeat themselves, hearing people should refrain from over-enunciating their response, a tactic guaranteed to further inflame the person with hearing loss.
- People with hearing loss should be aware that their frowns of concentration may be off-putting and misinterpreted as signs of anger. (It was only recently, when watching some videos, that I realized I frown more often than I smile. I’m now trying to look more pleasant even when I’m confused, but it may be too late to erase those permanent frown-lines between eyes.)
- Keep disagreements out of the dark. Discussions should be conducted in well-lit places that have a minimum of background noise. The person with hearing loss must take responsibility for an accessible environment, and that includes the golden rule of one person arguing at a time.
- Avoid yelling. Shouting is hard on anyone’s ears, but is especially difficult for the hearing aid or cochlear implant user. It’s not easy to yell with a happy face – and it’s difficult to speechread words delivered at high-volume.
- Above all, play fair and use your nice words.
This is accessible argumentation. The goal is not to win a fight, but to avoid an argument or defuse tensions by eliminating communication barriers for the person with hearing loss and unfair advantages for the hearing person. I wish I could say that I practice all of the above guidelines, but I can’t. I’m just as prone – even more prone, according to my family – to sparking cross words, and apparently I don’t always follow my own communication rules, a fact that has been used against me in an argument. But my family and I continue to work at it, and it helps that we understand the impact of hearing loss on communication and the rules of engagement. Other families may benefit from taking a communication course through their hearing healthcare provider or local consumer hearing loss association. It’s worth it.