Sometimes we, the people with hearing loss, are our own worst enemy. Not all bad hearing moments are the fault of them – you know, the people who can hear.
We have to take at least some responsibility for less-than-perfect communication, because we have some bad habits which trip us up time after time.
What Was I thinking?
We ask a question of someone when there’s no possible way we can hear the answer. With our head in the vegetable drawer of the fridge, we ask our partner if they know what happened to all the celery. We call out up to our child in her bedroom – meaning the sound has to travel through a wall and up a staircase – to ask if she’s done her homework. We take off our hardware – hearing aids, sound processor, etc. – but decide to keep on talking to our family, who seem to have lost their voices.
We have to remember that when other people call us from another room, it makes us crazy-nuts. The Golden Rule should apply here, with a little twist: Communicate with others as you would have them communicate with you.
I Deserve to Hear the Punch Line!
We don’t interrupt a group conversation to admit we’re having trouble following it. We agree to go to a trendy restaurant – which means dimly lit and highly noisy hell on wheels for us. We allow people to speak on our behalf; they mean well, but think that because we have trouble hearing, we might also have trouble answering.
One of the most important things to learn, as we adjust to life with hearing loss, is that we have not lost our value as a person or the right to participate. It’s not just about hearing, it’s about being heard. So, go ahead – ask them to repeat what they just said – it’s OK!
This is a big one and one of the hardest bad habits to break. We pretend we understand what’s being said when we don’t have a clue. Even worse, we actively fake comprehension by interjecting little sound-bites such as “oh, really”, “uh huh”. These, supported by the Mona Lisa smile and that nodding gesture, should be dead giveaways, but are often overlooked by the person who’s enjoying the sound of their own voice.
But bluffing can get us in trouble. It’s dishonest and a colossal waste of everybody’s time. It might be tough to say, “you know what, I’m not catching any of this, can we go stand somewhere quiet”, but we have to do it if we want productive relationships. We can’t nod our way through life.
Why Hide It?
Frankly, I believe that if we don’t self-identify – letting people know that we have hearing loss and what we need them to do when talking with us – then we can’t blame them for the poor communication that we get. If people don’t know we have hearing loss, our efforts to understand may be misinterpreted.
We don’t realize what our faces actually look like, when we are truly trying to understand, as opposed to the previously-mentioned bluffing. We frown as we strain to match what we see on your lips and hear from your voice; this can make us look angry. Or if we raise an eyebrow and turn one ear to you, this makes us seem suspicious of what you’re saying. But we’re just trying to get our ear closer to your mouth. Even worse, we might look a little blank as we try to piece the message together. This may cause people to wonder if perhaps our elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor or that we’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer. The sooner we let people know that we have hearing loss, the better for everyone.
“Did You Just Say…”
Verifying & Clarifying should be in the rule book of every person with hearing loss. Too often we assume we’ve heard correctly – even though we’re in a listening environment where we’re lucky if we can bat 0.100. That noisy restaurant, for example. Chances of accurately hearing the server – who gives rapid-fire delivery of the night’s specials, each of which has multiple ingredients – are slim. “We have a grilled breast of chicken, marinated in tomatillo-cilantro salsa, flash-fried, baked at a low temperature, and then finished with peppercorn-shrimp sauce and Portuguese-balsamic glaze.”
You are allergic to shrimp can’t stand cilantro, but the only word you heard was chicken, so that’s what you meekly order. If only you had asked the server to come stand by you and repeat it slowly, you wouldn’t be in the ER department with your face all puffed up.
Good communication rules apply to everyone, including us. These bad habits can be eliminated with a little effort and the payoff is better communication and better relationships.