5 Bad Habits of Hearing Loss (People)

Legend has it that from the time they first suspect a hearing problem, people typically wait 7 to 10 years before actually doing something about it. That’s a decade—a tenth of a century—of deteriorating communication. Seven to 10 years, wasted!

Research shows many reasons why people delay, including a belief their hearing is not all that bad and they can live with it, that it would cost too much to treat, hearing loss is low on their list of health priorities, or they simply don’t know where to get help. (AARP/American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA): National Poll on Hearing Health, 2011)

But unaddressed hearing loss has side effects. Years of poor communication take a toll on self-esteem, relationships, and overall health. It also gives a person time to develop bad habits. Sam Trychin, the renowned psychologist, public speaker and writer on hearing loss issues, wrote in his Mental Health Practitioner’s Guide (1987):  “The majority of people who are hard of hearing have had a gradual loss over a number of years. For them there may not have been a distinctly recognizable crisis period, but they have had a long time in which to develop and strengthen a variety of bad habits, such as bluffing, which can be highly resistant to change.”

So, what are some of these bad habits?

DENIAL: Not admitting our hearing loss, either to anyone or in individual situations, takes us down the slippery slope of poor communication. When talking to someone new, people are reluctant to bring up the issue until ‘necessary’—if at all.ostrich2

“Why announce a problem when there might not be any?”
“My hearing loss is private.”
“I can get by.”

Reluctance to accept and admit our hearing loss doesn’t prevent communication issues; it causes problems. While we’re struggling to understand what’s being said, the other person may sense something isn’t quite right and, rather than attributing the ‘disconnect’ to hearing loss, may incorrectly suspect that we’re aloof, uninterested or even incapable of understanding. A good personal policy is to accept our hearing loss and learn to disclose it as soon as possible, sometimes even before a conversation starts. Checking in to a hotel, for example, “Gael Hannan checking in and just so you know, I have hearing loss and would appreciate your facing me when you speak, thanks.”

BLUFFING is pretending to understand what’s being said, or giving the appearance of following the conversation, when, in reality, we don’t. We nod, smile, go uh-huh or oh, really and maybe repeat the odd word or two to reinforce the (false) impression that we’re getting it.

All people with hearing loss bluff, at least some of the time. If a hard of hearing person says they don’t bluff—they’re bluffing. There are many reasons why we bluff—we don’t want to appear stupid by having to ask for constant repeats, we don’t want to bother people, it’s difficult to keep up, we’re tired, etc. All valid reasons, but regardless of our reason or intent, bluffing disconnects  us from other people. We need to admit when we’re bluffing and find the courage to say, “I’m not following.”

WE DON’T ASSERT OUR NEEDS for accessible communication. A room is too dark. The speaker’s baseball cap shadows his eyes, making speechreading difficult. There’s background noise. Your friend is munching on potato chips, with some spinach stuck to her lower tooth. Your colleague is talking while walking away from you.

These are all correctable situations; the hard of hearing person needs to speak up and express the steps that will help improve the communication situation. The other person simply may not realize or remember that there might be a problem.

WE DON’T MODEL GOOD COMMUNICATION. It works both ways. Don’t talk to someone while walking away from them, or they will answer to your back. Talking with your mouth full is rude and looks disgusting and is un-speechread-able. Be aware of stray spinach. Articulate clearly.

# 1—Suffering in Silence: “I’m not going to tell my spouse one more time to face me. He should KNOW that I can’t read his lips from the side!” “I might as well not even be here at this family party. It’s clear they’ve all forgotten about me and how I can’t hear them. This happens ALL the time, to hell with ‘em all.”

This common scenario is doomed to be repeated at all future family (or other) events, if we continue to sit silently and let our thoughts boil up into a furious, painful storm. Whose fault is this?  Our family and friends, actively involved in other conversations, should and could be more attentive, perhaps, but they are not mind-readers.

#2—The Aggressive Accuser: “Why do you ALWAYS do that? Do you think that I’m the world’s best lipreader? No? Then why do you think I can see yours moving on the other side of the bathroom wall? Why am I always the one who has to go running to find out what you said? You’re wonderful with other people—why don’t you treat ME better?”

Understandably, frustrations build up and spill over when people who should know better, forget or ignore our needs. Like any relationship issue, communication breakdown due to hearing loss needs to be discussed and repaired with positive strategies. Admittedly, this is far easier said than done, but the alternative is to risk damage to the relationship.


Bad habits can be broken. Good communication is worth the effort.


Image courtesy of WikiHow

Ostrich image courtesy of www.alexmankiewicz.com/

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


  1. I’m 64 and have suffered for many years from hearing loss. I worked in construction and in factories (100 decibel noise levels or worse-hearing protection was not always available in the past-It was considered unmanly!) Jack hammers, recreational gun fire, machinery, all attributed to my hearing loss. I can read and retain remarkable comprehension and recently graduated from Purdue with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Graphics Technology, and an engineering affiliate in manufacturing communication, with a 3.4 grade average.
    I have become a lazy listener. I will avoid people whose voice frequencies I have trouble hearing. In a factory setting; if three people would converse, I had to be the one in the middle. I could almost read lips in this work environment. I sometimes hear people say things that I would swear they said in a court of law, and it would even make sense, so when the truth comes out it was something that sounded similar but would have a totally different meaning; at times this would be embarrassing, or cause the person to be angry or embarrassed themselves. It could also be quite humorous; like the two women that there doctor told them: to eat good food and exercise, and one thought he said: to get new shoes and accessorize!
    I also do a lot of bluffing, even on the telephone; I just insert a word now and then to show I’m interested, and in live conversation I sense people intuitively sense my confusion as aloofness or disinterest; which has caused me to have gradually moved away from people and conversation. It’s demeaning to listen to a whole conversation that you acted like you understood, and you have questions about it that you are too embarrassed to ask! I don’t like a radio on because it will distract me and background noise in restaurants make conversation useless. Someone can be talking to me and I get distracted by trying to keep up or think I hear something that doesn’t sound right; so I lose my concentration on what they’re trying to tell me. It becomes easier to avoid these situations; I feel terrible about this because I am interested in the people around me! I can never hear the cashier say what I owe, and I am frustrated when I can’t see the monitor; unless I explain myself, (which doesn’t always happen) I can leave a bad impression. I feel like I do not do this intentionally but have developed these habits over time, and I am wondering whether getting a hearing aid will enable me to gradually become a more interested listener again, so I can enjoy peoples company and conversation once more.

  2. I am not clear all of these, Yes sometimes they show they understand all nicely, but they could not. We should not say bluffing, actually they don’t want to mean themselves. As professional and parents, I feel how difficult to communicate well to others with deafness. Need More clarification. Thanks

  3. They certainly apply to me, esp. #1. I have thought every one of those words, repeatedly. My worst is, “Why remind him AGAIN, when he’ll only get insulted, and there’ll be a fight?”

  4. Thank you for this thought-provoking article. As I was reading I was thinking of “other” HoH people in my life who would benefit from reading this, but also recognizing myself in some of these behaviours. It’s good to be reminded of our part and responsibility in the communication “dance”, whether it is us who has the hearing loss or if it is our partner.

  5. Sadly I can attest to each and every one of these bad habits. Being deaf is very isolating and I think there is very little understanding or sympathy from the vast majority of people. Sometimes it is just easier to go with the flow and miss out a lot. We get ‘hit’ from every angle when it be from the government level or our closest family member.

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