If you were to ask a person what bothers them the most about their hearing loss, be prepared to hear a long list, starting with not being able to hear very well. But there are many more, including these:
- The eternal need to say pardon or would you repeat that, please?
- Having people reply “oh never mind” when you do.
- Not being able to follow the conversation.
- Being forced into Bluff Mode – pretending to understand what’s being said.
- Being caught at Bluffing.
- Taking care of hearing aids, including remembering to take them off before showering.
- Having to buy hearing aids in the first place, instead of buying that new car or paying off your credit card.
- Plus 93 other irritating, inconvenient and unavoidable aspects of hearing loss!
Included in my personal Top 100 list of hearing-related, crazy-making things is #12, a situation that still has the power to make me blush: starting to talk and being told to SHHH! – sometimes subtly, sometimes not – because someone else is already talking.
This is called ‘talking over’ someone. I know that hearing people sometimes do this (the internet has a lot to say about rude people talking over other people), but I can tell you that people with hearing loss frequently do it. We’re not rude; we simply don’t hear that another person is already talking. There might be background noise or several conversations happening at once, but whatever the reason, we just don’t hear that someone else has the floor. So we jump in, often loudly, with whatever we want to say.
When this happens – in my world – another person will hold up a finger to me and point to the person talking. I suppose this is the best way, silent and relatively discreet because not everyone will see that finger (you hope). Or, someone will look at me, shake their head slightly and say (at what seems to be a thundering volume, but probably isn’t), “Hang on, Gael, Bob is talking.” This is a nice but still embarrassing way of saying “Shut up, talk-hog, it’s not your turn.”
Occasionally – and this is worse with people you’re not related to by blood or close friendship – you jump in and talk over someone, but are politely allowed to finish your bit. Only then do they say something to the effect of, “That’s nice, Gael, but Bob was already speaking.” That’s when I mutter “Oh. Sorry, Bob.” That’s when I consider leaving the conversation, the room, the building and catching a train to a town populated entirely by hard of hearing people. If I can’t find one, I’d start a community with a hearing loss-only population.
The only way to prevent ‘talking over’ is to make completely sure no one in your conversation group is already talking; then it’s fair game who gets to speak next. But in reality, by the time you see that the field is clear, someone else has already jumped into the silence. This is why many people with hearing loss simply don’t join the conversation; they stay silent because they don’t want to risk “talking over”.
It helps to understand that everyone does this from time to time. While you still might squirm silently when it happens, it helps to have a little confidence and learn to say, “Oh, sorry Bob, I didn’t hear you. What were you saying?” Then you listen with interest until it’s your turn.