People with hearing loss bluff. We can’t help it; it’s part of the hard of hearing package. We give the impression of understanding what’s being said and being actively engaged in a conversation. In reality, we’re just putting on a show.
Sometimes we bluff unintentionally and other times we are fully aware of it. We just don’t want the other person or people to know that we’ve lost the thread, can’t understand everything, and therefore we’ve simply given up.
Now, none of us want to bluff. We’d love to be fully engaged with what other people are saying, in the exact moment they’re saying it. Unfortunately, all the communication ducks have to be lined up, in a perfect row:
- Good visuals of the speakers – all of them
- One person speaks at a time – and clearly
- A low-noise, well-lit environment – this is non-negotiable
- We know what the topic is – even when it changes
- We have enough energy for the conversation – we need a lot!
- We know how to ask for what we need, and we do it. (Not always easy but doable.)
Although I’m an excellent bluffer, I wish I weren’t. It’s dishonest to other people and counter-productive to my personal well-being. Yet, when those communication ducks aren’t all swimming in the same direction, I fall into the bluffing trap. It’s a survival tactic, although there are many better ways to communicate.
But I’m good at it because I’ve had lots of practice. My dad always told me that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well–although I’m sure he didn’t mean being dishonest in my conversational communications. But if you’re going to bluff, at least do it well, because it’s no fun being caught in the act. It’s embarrassing for you and uncomfortable for everyone.
Never use a blank face. The zombie face with no light behind the eyes doesn’t work. Any engaged person has some life in their face—facial features have to move occasionally. Try a little animation with the head, eyes and mouth.
Copy other people. Keep a discreet lookout for how other people are reacting to the conversation. Are they serious, laughing, bored? Of course, not everyone reacts the same way to a speaker, but keeping a shifty eye on other people while appearing to be listening to the speaker is a good bluffing skill to perfect.
Make listening noises. When someone is talking, throw in some sounds that give the impression you’re following then: hmm, wow, ohhh, etc. Don’t overdo it, or you’ll just come across as an odd person who makes weird noises.
Use interesting facial expressions. This twins well with the listening noises. You need to show reactions to what’s being said. Raised eyebrows, smiles or frowns, an understanding nod, or that little pfft sound made by blowing air out your lips is an effective gesture.
Talk all the time. That way you don’t have to listen to or understand what anyone else is saying.
Interject and repeat words. Because we do hear many of the words being said, although not enough of them, or in the right order to make sense of the discussion, repeating words or phrases you do hear is a neat trick. Someone might say (and this is all you understand), “Let’s…really fast…but…on Thursday.” You repeat, “On Thursday.” And the other person goes, “Yeah, Thursday, can you believe it?” You’re good for at least another minute of bluffing before you get caught.
And, at some point, you are going to get caught. Even if you make it through the ‘conversation’, you have no real idea of what just went down. But if you’re prepared to take that risk, if you really want to be a bluffing pro—then by all means add these methods to your arsenal of tricks.
Or—and here’s an idea—you could be honest. Explain (or remind) others about your hearing loss and create a communication environment that works for everyone, including you! We have the choice of learning to become a better bluffer or a better communicator. It’s a work in progress—trust me, I know.