Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Better Hearing Consumer section of HearingHealthMatters.org on August 15, 2015.
By Gael Hannan
Hearing care professionals believe they know what people need in order to hear better. After all, they’ve gone to school to learn this.
People with hearing loss (PWHL) know they want to hear better, but believe they don’t always get what they need from the professionals. And after all, they’re the ones struggling to hear.
Is the process too complicated, too divisive? Maybe the professional and the PWHL should hold hands for a little while when they come together and see where that takes them.
In Robert Fulghum’s iconic book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, he drills down centuries of philosophy on achieving life happiness and success into credos such as play fair, clean up your own mess, and take naps. Reading them, you realize that simple statements can provide answers to the big questions, especially when they are presented together, in the Big Picture. “Yeah, problems really do get solved when we hold hands and stick together!”
Of course, it helps if you know what you’re talking about which, in our case, is hearing health care delivered by audiologists and hearing instrument specialists. I’ve been receiving these services for a lifetime; after 40 years of hearing aids and 20 years of advocacy, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s what. (I think.)
When I give presentations to university and college students who are training to be hearing care professionals, I’m there as a real, live PWHL. I stand in front of motivated, intelligent people looking forward to a satisfying career that will help people and pay the bills. They have learned their profession’s scope of practice and intend to honor it. So, in my various presentations, I use humor and drama, PowerPoints, promises and thinly veiled threats to help them get under the skin of the real people they will be serving. Will my words and their professors teachings stick with them when, as new professionals, they feel the shock of reality with fee schedules that don’t include the necessary client counseling, and the corporate pressure to sell?
Perhaps the course needs to drill down, be more elemental? Voila! The World’s Shortest Audiology Course.
- Close your computers, please and look at me while we talk. Your clients will need the same courtesy. I’ll follow up with a print or electronic version; you should do the same for your clients after every appointment.
- Paint the Big Picture. The journey to communication success is a partnership and both professionals and PWHLs have roles. Explain yours and explain your vision of theirs. Ask if they have a different vision. Come to an agreement. Write it down, spit in your hands, and shake.
- Learn all the technical stuff about Audiology and Technology and then articulate the important bits to your clients. Don’t dumb it down or Einstein it. Keep it real.
- Communicate better. Even if people say you already speak well, learn what your clients need and then deliver.
- Face them when you speak. Always. No exceptions.
- Speak clearly, maybe a bit louder, don’t over-emphasize.
- The message in your eyes is as important as the words on your lips.
- Practice in front of a mirror and with a PWHL. Ask for feedback from professors and friends. Am I loud enough (but not too loud)? Do I speak clearly?
- Don’t assume. Ask questions. It’s easy to believe, by virtue of your diploma, that you’re the expert on what your client should want. How can you be? You’re not them. Ask what’s important in their life. How has hearing loss affected them? What would they like to see changed? Can they afford standard hearing aids? Be a scientist and never lose your curiosity. Explore alternatives. Be patient.
- Walk in your clients’ shoes. Learn what they must learn—the other communication strategies that complement technology. Become artificially hard of hearing for a day or two to understand the challenges in understanding speech, hearing your baby cry or coping in noise and groups. Use closed captioning for a month. Take a speechreading course. Use the peerless peer support of consumer groups such as HLAA and CHHA. Wear an amplification device for an explosive revelation at what your clients really endure as they get used to new hearing aids.
- Loop your office. The whole thing. The front reception desk and the client interview/fitting rooms—but not the sound booth. Then—use a transmitter to connect with your client.
- Of course, to do that, you will need to put telecoils in your clients’ hearing aids. Explain why they need them and how the system works. Bluetooth is wonderful: it connects clients to their phones, TV and other devices. Telecoils and looping connect them to YOU.
- Compliment your clients on their achievements, however small, and encourage them through the setbacks. Smile and make them want to smile back.
You may ask, in fairness, “If you want us to walk a mile in your shoes, how about lacing up our runners for an hour or so?” I would, except that science is my weak link; my explanation for how hearing aids work: you put a battery in it. But you have chosen to be hearing healthcare professionals; while I did not choose to have hearing loss, I have chosen you to help me. And, to even things up, here’s the World’s Shortest Course on Living Well with Hearing Loss:
Admit it. Get help. Use technology and other strategies. Tell people what you need. Communicate. Repeat as necessary.
So, for those of you who are still looking me in the eye—congratulations, you’ve passed the course. Good luck, we need you out there!
Oh, and when you shake your client’s hand? Hold on to it just a little bit longer.