Note: I first posted this article five years ago to the day. I’ve made only a few minor changes, but the info is the same and even more important today because, presumably, there are now a lot more people with hearing loss. That means there are a lot more people who need to know how to talk with ‘us’: family members, friends, law enforcement officials, coffee baristas, our financial advisers, therapists, dental hygienists, our dog trainers….
Conversing with a hard of hearing person is much easier if you, the ‘hearing’ person, are aware of the hearing loss.
If you don’t know that the person you’re talking to has a hearing problem, you’re forgiven (somewhat0 for looking off into space as you prattle on, or mumbling, or putting your hands in front of your mouth. It’s understandable that you might speak softly, indistinctly, or use unconnected phrases with no verbs. And how could you possibly know that your facial expressions and body language should match your actual words?
Here’s a little quiz.
What chance of success do these two people share?
A blindfolded, first-time archer trying to hit the bulls-eye from 100 feet.
A hard of hearing person trying to understanding all your words when you’re facing away, chewing gum, or not moving your lips.
Answer: The success rate for both would be approximately zilch, nada, zero-ish.
Many people are hesitant to broadcast their hearing loss for a variety of reasons, but if the person has not made you aware of their communication needs, you’re off the hook! You can’t be blamed for assuming that this seemingly normal person requires anything beyond the standard communication of the hearing world.
Once someone tells you about their hearing loss, from that point on – forever and ever – you share responsibility for effective face-to-face interaction. But if you are like most ‘hearing’ people, you’ll forget about the hearing loss from time to time, and lapse into poor communication.
My husband forgets, my son forgets. My audiologist forgets. And to be truthful, sometimes I forget too.
Why else would I start a conversation from another room, and expect my husband to think, “Well, even though Gael started talking to me from the kitchen, I know she won’t understand my response. Therefore, I shall get up from my comfy couch and go down and talk with my beloved, face-to-face, the way I should.” Like that’s gonna happen.
If you do forget, on occasion, don’t beat yourself up too much; simply re-read the guidelines below – and try harder next time.
How to Talk to a Hard of Hearing Person
- With the same respect and courtesy that you accord to anyone.
- Ask the person with hearing loss what would work best for optimal communication.
- Get the person’s attention before starting to speak. It’s difficult to catch up when tuning in halfway through the first sentence.
- People with hearing loss need to see the face. Make sure the light is on your face, and that nothing is obstructing their view of your lovely eyes and mouth.
- Communication Calisthenics: Keep the head up, minimize head and body movement, keep mouth clear of hands and other objects, keep mustaches trimmed and lose the gum, food or cigarette.
- Speech should be clear and at a normal or even slightly slower pace. Do not shout; this is painful to the ears and visually distorts the words, making speechreading difficult. You also run the risk of looking mean.
- Facial expressions and body language should match words, helpful when a tone of voice can’t be heard.
- Eliminate background noise, whenever possible.
- If asked, use assistive technology: computers, text interpretation, captioning, FM systems, and amplification.
- A reminder – ask the person with hearing loss if the communication is working for them.
These are the basics. There’s an advanced course in Effective Communication for People With Hearing Loss, but this will do.
For a start.