How to Tell / What to Do If I’m Not Hearing You

“You have hearing loss? Really!? You speak so well!” (Because my mommy taught me.)

“You don’t look like you have hearing loss.” (You were maybe expecting a permanent expression of “huh?”)

Here’s some breaking news:  I WANT YOU TO KNOW I DON’T HEAR WELL.

That way, you’ve got a head start on my needs. You and I just make minor adjustments and we’ll communicate beautifully. There’s no shame or embarrassment in having hearing loss. We’ve worked hard to get rid of that stigma. And we don’t mind talking about it or explaining our technology.

I’m sure some people might still wonder if we’re hard of hearing, we might also be hard of thinking, or hard of being smart. That’s just old-fashioned, out-of-date, ignorant stigma. Sure, like most people on the planet, we may have other impairments – such as needing reading glasses or having a chronic bum knee, but these have nothing to do with our hearing challenges. (Of course, some people have conditions that cause multiple disabilities, including hearing loss.)

So now that we’ve got that out of the way, how can you tell if someone is having difficulty hearing you?

  • We don’t respond when you speak to us from, say, behind our back.
  • We answer a question incorrectly or say something that doesn’t fit with what you just said.
  • We look at you a bit blankly. Then maybe smile a bit. Or nod. But we don’t reply.
  • As we listen to you and others, we follow the speaker with our eyes.
  • We’ve said pardon, excuse, please repeat that, more than twice in the last few minutes.
  • We are wearing hearing aids.
  • We actually tell you we have hearing loss.

In all of the examples above, except the last one, you would be correct in at least suspecting a hearing loss. What should you do? 

First, the person should tell you upfront that they have hearing issues or are at least struggling in this particular listening situation. As a person with hearing loss, it’s my responsibility to let you know my needs.

But not everyone is me. Many of us, especially those new to hearing loss, have trouble spitting out the words please speak up, I’m hard of hearing, or whatever term they use to describe themselves. In that case, maybe you can help out a bit.

You could say something to invite a self-declaration and/or a solution.  “You seem not to be hearing me, is my voice clear enough?” “It’s very noisy in here, what if we move over here.”

If you’re lucky, they’ll tell you they have hearing loss and what they need from you. If they don’t, you’ve done your best. Everybody deals with hearing loss in a different way, and some people take longer to accept it and learn effective strategies.

And until they ‘fess up, you’re always a good idea to practice good communication strategies with everyone.

  • Speak in a clear voice (not too high or low, breathy or booming) at a reasonable pace.
  • Speak face to face.
  • Don’t cover your face with your hands, food, baseball hat shadow, etc.
  • Match facial expressions with your words. You don’t need to be a clown, just smile if it’s good news or small talk but not if it’s bad news.
  • Repeat your words if asked. Rephrasing is always a good idea.

Alrighty – go out and find some people with hearing loss and practice what you’ve learned today.





About Gael Hannan

The Better HearingConsumer addresses the personal experience of living with hearing loss. Editor Gael Hannan and her occasional guest bloggers explore every corner of the hearing loss life with humor and poignancy. Comment Policy   Gael Hannan, Editor Gael Hannan is an author, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog at the Better Hearing Consumer, which has a passionate international following,Gael has written two acclaimed books, “The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss”and “Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss”, written with Shari Eberts. 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 that advocates for individuals to become more knowledgeable and successful at dealing with their hearing loss and a more inclusive society for them to live in. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, Canada. Books and other media Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss. Written with Shari Eberts and available anywhere books are sold. The Way I Hear It: A Life With Hearing Loss. Available through online bookstores. Unheard Voices, DVD, vignettes from the hearing loss life. Contact Gael Hannan to order.


  1. Actually, we who have Presbycusis (loss as we age), typically have difficulty hearing high frequency sounds (voiceless such as: s, sh, ch, th, k, p, and more). Also stops (p, b, t, k and more) are harder to hear because they’re short and disappear quickly. I often don’t hear word endings (vowels are relatively clear). In my experience, having someone speak slower, word for word even though it feels awkward (I usually demonstrate), increases intelligibility more than increasing loudness .

    1. Some friends (at first) spoke so slowly it was not helpful at all – the way they exaggerated each syllable was and is very uncomfortable for me to watch (and they look so awkward, so it must be uncomfortable for them). It also suggests they think I’ve lost some of my intelligence, and as many say, we are not “daft, dumb, nor diminished” because of hearing loss. Also, if they speak too slowly, it takes “forever” to listen to what they want to tell me :-). On the other hand, some people (e.g. many younger folks) speak so very quickly, then, yes, I also need to ask them to slow down. In terms of loudness, agreed. In fact, if too loud, it blurs speech even more than “normal” speaking. If they know how to “project” their voice a little more clearly (enunciate, move their lips), that’s very helpful also (essentially summarized in Gael’s good first suggestion above).

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