How to Talk with a Person Who Has Hearing Loss

Gael Hannan
May 13, 2019

Is there a person with hearing loss in your family? If so, then you know all about what to do —and what not to do— for effective communication, right?

Are you a person with hearing loss in a family where everyone else is hearing? If so, you know how difficult it is for your family members to remember and carry out the communication basics, right?

For most people, it’s just not easy to making the changes necessary for effective conversations. Assuming that there have been some preliminary talk about the basics – face me when speaking, don’t yell or over-enunciate and don’t starting talking to me until you’ve got my attention – the problem, to my way of thinking, boils down to things:

  • The person with hearing loss has not learned how to let others know their needs or understand that these needs must be expressed over and over again. Why? Because they expect their loved ones to rise to the situation and understand that every conversation is in danger of going down the communication toilet.
  • The hearing person is not a mind-reader, can’t tell if the hearing person is in communication difficulty, and so assumes that all is well. Why? Because they had a similar conversation yesterday in the same place, and the relative seemed to be coping, when in fact he or she may actually be fluffing (pretending to understand).

These two common scenarios are like a water balloon – perfectly designed to explode into an emotional mess. The person who can’t hear well is anxious at being cut out of the flow and the family member is impatient with the hearing aid user who doesn’t seem to stay engaged.

There are about two million variations on this scenario, which is played out, every day in lives affected by hearing loss. It takes time and practice and open dialogue to create conversations that approach what they used to be like in the family: spontaneous, humorous, or at least, free-flowing.

I know what I’m talking about, because I’ve been having the hearing loss conversation for 60 years. Sixty years! So believe me when I tell you – don’t try and reinvent the wheel. Here are the steps the HEARING people need to take to get back to the good stuff.

  • Get the person’s attention before starting to speak. A little wave, a little tap, putting your face in their line of sight – these are good things.
  • Don’t start a conversation from another room. Just don’t. If we answer, it’s only to say something like – “Are you kidding me? You think I understand you?”
  • Face the person – always. Whether we know it or not, we are speech-readers, and can understand you when we can see you.
  • And because of point #3 above, please ensure your mouth is free of food, gum, cigarettes and spinach stuck in your teeth… We won’t understand you because of the first three items, and we won’t be able to concentrate because of the last.
  • Don’t yell or over-enunciate. Neither of these are helpful – the first one hurts our ears and the second one makes you look stupid.
  • We don’t do dark. We understand better in a well-lit room, with little or no background noise.
  • If you’re not sure if I’m understanding, ask me. (Just in case I’m not assertive enough to ask you to do something differently.)
  • And never, never, never say ‘never mind’, if you’re asked to repeat yourself. It’s hurtful and if there was a reason you said it the first time, that’s a good enough reason to repeat it.

And to the PERSON WITH HEARING LOSS, follow these same conversation rules, but don’t bluff, and do let your loved one know what you need. Even if you feel you shouldn’t have to remind them – you do, because communication with hearing loss is a two-way street.


Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for Hearing Health & Technology Matters, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book “The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss”. 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, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.