Fact: Our personal hearing and communication needs are not always top of mind in other people, in any given moment. Shocking, eh?
Fact: Sometimes (or often), we just aren’t good at asking for what we need – at least, in a way that gets the results we want. All sorts of emotions get in the way – resentment that they aren’t speaking correctly in the first place, frustration at struggling to articulate our request, and irritation that this is only the millionth time we’ve asked for the same thing!
In my long life with hearing loss, I’ve learned that there’s a nice way of asking, a poor way of asking, and a way of asking that gets results. You’d think that I would be using the last one all the time, but no. I’m not a perfect person with hearing loss, because I’m a human first. But I’ve become better over time, through sheer practice.
Here are some ideas that might help you, as they did me, get what you need for better communication.
- Understand what you really need. Do you know what you need others to do? Basic stuff like facing you and giving you a full view of their face, and speaking in an accessible, non-condescending manner? Are you familiar with the technology that can help, such as wearing your hearing aids (not everyone does all the time) and perhaps a speech to text app? Are you aware of the often little changes to the listening environment that have big payoffs? Changing who sits where, for example? Lights up, noise down? This is the stuff you need to know so you can communicate it to other people.
- Don’t assume that other people are mind readers. If the people you’re talking with are familiar with your hearing loss, they shouldn’t assume that you are understanding them. But if you don’t tell them otherwise, that’s exactly what they’ll assume! Your job is to assume that they are not mind readers. Let them know what you need.
- Be clear and unapologetic in what you ask for. It’s what you need, actually require, in order to have an active conversation. What you’re asking for is not a favor, not an optional thing. It’s the foundation of good communication.
- Be assertive, not aggressive, in your ask. It’s hard to respond positively to an angry, barked request. You don’t need to dilute the content of your request, just dial down the aggression. Communication is a two-way street; it’s not all about you.
- Be specific about what you need. It’s one thing to know what you need (see point 1 above), now you need to articulate it. Instead of saying, I have hearing loss and I’m not following you, flesh it out. State more than the fact of your issue; provide some constructive details. Hints aren’t effective; be direct. Instead of, wow, this conversation has turned into a free for all, try saying: If we could speak one at a time, that will help me follow the conversation. And instead of, boy it’s noisy in here, suggest that you move to that quieter spot over there, so that I can hear you better.
- Be specific about what you don’t need. Speaking loudly or yelling falls into this category, as does over-enunciation which is just humiliating (and hard not to laugh at). And don’t let anyone speak for you – take charge of your own communication success. Finally, if you don’t communicate using a signed language, an interpreter is not helpful, although it’s often offered when you ask for accommodation. If you need captioning, ask for it.
- Bonus! Be grateful for good communication from others – but don’t accept anything less. Self-explanatory.