It should not amaze me that people hesitate or neglect to admit their hearing loss, or ask for something to be repeated – because there was a time when I was that person. (On a rare occasion, I still am.)
Why don’t we want people to know we’re struggling? Do we worry they will think we’re not bright, or not very good at keeping up, or simply not paying attention (which would make us rude)? Or are we exhausted trying to follow a complicated conversations between several people, which is my occasional exit cue.
Yes, it’s all that, but it can also be that people with hearing loss, especially those who are relatively new to the life, don’t know how to ask. They don’t feel they have the right. They need to develop confidence in their hearing loss to say, I didn’t catch that, please repeat? Or, I have hearing loss – could we adjust our seating so I can hear you better?
How do we gain that confidence?
Once I realized that there was no shame in having hearing loss, that it’s part of my personal Human Package, things got easier. There were, however, a few decades between being born with it and the aha moment of letting the stigma go. It should not have taken that long and hopefully for you, that leg of your journey is shorter.
When you’ve shed all that stuff, the best way to build confidence in having our needs met is practice, practice, practice. In our upcoming book, Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, Shari Eberts and I write from experience: “Developing a better attitude [about hearing loss] is wonderful, but it only works when you put it into action. For example, if you want to stop hiding and be more open about your hearing loss, you need to practice telling people about it.”
And as we train ourselves in this new skill, we should pay close attention to how others respond: they actually give it to us! They didn’t reject us!
Why? Because they want to communicate with us. On FaceBook, people frequently vent about negative reactions from other people – this response is upsetting and it’s definitely not good communication. But we can also misjudge the reactions, possibly due to our own negative feelings. For example, when I ask the Hearing Husband to do something to help me hear better, he will sometimes make a little ‘face’. This irks me (deeply) because I think he’s being impatient with me. So, I fire off a snarky comment, only to find out that he was mad at himself for making the communication boo-boo in the first place. Oops, sorry darlin’.
Some readers may say, what’s the big deal? There’s nothing wrong with asking someone to repeat themselves. Well, for many people, it’s quite a big deal. Hearing loss, no matter how mild, can change how we do almost anything. Once-easy interactions now have an added layer of complexity. We are putting personal issues on display and that’s just not easy for some people. Asking for repeats. Shifting so we can see their faces. Changing seats. Admitting our neediness.
Confidence creates confidence. Try this: lean into being a person with hearing loss. Embrace it, learn about it, accept it. Learn how to ask for help with grace.
In telling people that we need communication support, we are exercising our right to hear and be heard. We have hearing loss and they don’t; they might realize they are speaking too softly, or that they are in shadow, or that the background music they don’t even notice, is noise to us that wipes their words out of our ears.
So, develop confidence by practicing. Say it to yourself in the mirror. Try it out on strangers. Saying it out loud for the first time might bring tears to your eyes but do it anyway. It can be as simple as, “I’m using a hearing aid now.” There it is. You’ve said it. Now do it again, this time with confidence.
Will you be at HL a a in Tampa this year? Rose and I will be there hoping you will be too.