Whether you’re the person with diminished hearing or the family member of, you may have established some default habits that work against both of you
In April 2016 my article “Why Is There a Stigma About Using Hearing Aides?” posted on Family Affaires. . Society accepts people with glasses and braces but hearing aides, not so much.
This article however is about the counterproductive techniques that people who have a hearing loss frequently make as well as those who love them.
Bad Communication Habits
Last month we hosted a lovely couple for a visit, Dean and Laura. My husband and Dean have known each other for literally decades.
During our visit, I noticed Dean had difficulties staying with the conversation, sometimes quite noticeably. He defaulted to the typical behaviors that practically everyone with diminished hearing makes: “Huh?” “What?” and head bobbing, ostensibly to agree.
I’ve seen it all with my mom, deaf from Meniere’s disease, and also living with my husband Joe whose loss is related to years of over exposure to loud music.
The evening the four of us went out to dinner together, my husband drove and Dean sat directly behind him. Dean seemed compelled to control the conversation telling Joe stories, shooting him questions and impatient when Joe didn’t reply. Joe couldn’t hear Dean’s questions, so I translated. Dean couldn’t hear Joe’s answers, so I translated. It was a ridiculous exchange that never stopped.
My mother and I had developed a proactive conversation strategy when we were together in the car. She supplemented her hearing loss with reading lips and took cues from facial expressions, so essentially we only spoke at stop light pauses when we could safely look at one another.
Unlike many people with hearing loss, my husband transparently wears his hearing aides from breakfast to bedtime. And like many people with hearing loss, he complains of difficulties localizing a sound’s location, annoying background noise and other people’s “bad communication habits”.
Oops! Other people’s “bad communication habits” include me! I can and need to do better; maybe you do too.
Turn before Talking
Regardless of who’s talking and who’s listening, following these tips will result in a smoother dialogue with less “Huhs?” and frustration.
- Face the person to whom you’re speaking. Don’t talk to the kitchen window or TV. Turn before talking!
- Speak clearly and without impediments. In other words, don’t talk while you’re eating and keep your hands away from your face.
- Speak at a reasonable rate. It’s not a race to see who can get the most words out per minutes.
- Don’t talk to someone from another room. One of my pet peeves! If you want to talk to someone, get up and go find them first.
- Don’t interrupt. Reciprocal communication is more successful when both people get to finish what they’re saying. But don’t be a conversation hog.
- Get their attention first. If you start a conversation while someone else is reading the paper for example, they probably won’t catch your opening remarks and you’ll just have to repeat yourself anyway.
- Don’t jump around from one topic to another. Most people with hearing difficulties expend more energy concentrating on the specifics of a conversation. My mother referenced this often. Stay on point.
- And don’t mumble. One of my mother’s pet peeves. Enunciate your words.
People with hearing difficulties need to turn before talking in part to be sure the person or people with whom they’re speaking are physically in the room and listening. And the person speaking to someone with a hearing loss needs to turn before talking also, otherwise they might as well be talking to themselves.
I failed my mom many times, too impatient to adapt to her deaf world. I wish I could have a “do-over” but she’s gone now.
No matter which side of the hearing loss you’re on, modify your counterproductive habits and make the environmental changes necessary for better dialogue. I’m stepping up my game with my hubby.