Asking Someone to Repeat Themselves (Is OK!)

Gael Hannan
July 6, 2021

It irks me when people with hearing loss, including me, are reluctant to ask someone to repeat themselves.

But I understand the many reasons – and the consequences. If you don’t ask for a repeat of something you didn’t catch, that immediately puts you into the bluffing hole – which can quickly turn into a deep, dark bluffing pit. When this happens, hopefully you know what the topic is, because if you miss a comment and chickened out on asking for a repeat, maybe you’ll catch up with the next comment. Or maybe the one after that. Or – you start sliding into the pit of pretending you understand what’s being said. And there are very few graceful ways to climb out of this dark hole. None, actually, except for this:

“I’m sorry, I have no idea what’s going on because I was too embarrassed/shy/bored/proud/insecure to admit that I’m not hearing you in this fast-paced conversation.”

Assuming you’re even interested in staying in the conversation, the only way to not bluff is to stay on top of things. You can do this by making your needs known, reminding people as necessary, and adjusting the listening environment to reduce background noise, improve sightlines, and to keep people talking more-or-less one at a time (Difficult, yes, but not impossible.)

You are not only allowed to do this but are encouraged to – because there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for a repeat. I mean, we have hearing loss – this is what we DO! People expect it from us. If we don’t ask for repeats for a while, they may start looking at us funny, thinking we’ve made up this whole hearing loss thing as a sympathy grab. Or that maybe a miracle has happened and suddenly, we can hear with the best of them.

No, people who know us expect to be asked for repeats – often because they’ve forgotten to face us, or they’ve mumbled while eating, or because it’s just the way we roll. They may, in fact, be so used to repeating themselves that they may do what the Hearing Husband does; he says something and immediately repeats it, sometimes even a third time. Which I find irritating, especially if I did catch it the first time.

It’s OK to ask them to say it again – don’t be ashamed!

Here’s another thing. What if we didn’t even get that there was a ‘first time’? Someone is waiting for a response from us, but we have nothing to work with. We didn’t know something was said, so how can we possibly answer?

Person (looking at me expectantly) “So…?”

Me: “So….what?”

Person: “So what do you think?”

Me: “About…?”

Person: (impatiently) “About what I just said!

Me: “That’s really helpful. You said something?”

Person: “Yes! Just now!”

Me:  Well, what did you SAY!?”

Person: (Pauses.) “I said…oh, now I can’t REMEMBER!”

Me: “And so you’re mad at ME?! Sheesh, your memory’s got holes in it!”

Friend: “And so does your hearing – and the holes are getting bigger!”

Me: “That’s not very nice.”

Friend: “Sorry.”

Me: “Me too. You have to get my attention before starting to speak to me – you know that!”

Friend: “Well, you seemed to be tuned in.”

Me: “Nope, bluffing! I was pretending to understand what the other person was saying.”

Friend: “This is exhausting.”

Me: “Welcome to my life.”

Ask for repeats – without apology and without shame. People in your life want to communicate with you, and communication is a two-way street.


  1. Gael, I often chuckle in reading your column. . . Great dialogue here! FAMILIAR!!!

  2. Oh my gosh! This is like you were writing about me! I had to giggle reading your column. Thank you!

  3. That made me smile!! Happens a lot!! Rspecially in groups!! One on one i can’t and don’t bluff! Glad i am not the only one!!!

  4. Loved this!!!
    I particularly like when someone can take a serious problem and explain it in a light hearted way, without making people feel like they have been made fun of.

  5. My friend wrote me the above comment when I shared this article with her. Thank you.

  6. Made me chuckle when friend said ‘this is exhausting’.
    Have to admit sometimes I don’t ask for a repeat because I anticipate not catching it the second time or that someone will say ‘never mind’.

  7. Love all the replies and comments. They remind me of a conversation held with two friends not too long ago. One friend is hearing impaired as am I, the third is not. The two of us “Bluffers” nodded and grinned as the third told us something neither of us could understand. As she walked away we Bluffers turned to each other asking, “Do you have any idea what she just said? Sadly, we agreed we were completely at a loss. These situations don’t happen often, but an upcoming reunion of friends from college years of 70 years ago already is making me nervous.

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