Whether you use hearing aids, a cochlear implant or you simply have mild, untreated hearing loss, learning new communication strategies is a great idea. Communication strategies can ameliorate the frustrating or isolating effects of missing out on or misinterpreting conversations and can help you make meaningful connections with others.
First, reflect on your communication style. According to Cochlear Americas, there are three basic communication styles – passive, aggressive and assertive – though it’s best to use or adjust to an assertive style for the most productive communication.
Many people with hearing loss are passive communicators, especially when they have just begun experiencing communication difficulties due to hearing loss. Passive communicators withdraw from conversations and pretend they understand out of a fear of saying the wrong thing or looking “stupid.” For some people, it seems easier to be passive, but this communication style can leave one feeling isolated and depressed because their needs are not being met. With certain communication partners, passive communication might be ideal, but it can grow quite frustrating when conversing with meaningful people in one’s life.
An aggressive communication style is also not ideal. People who are aggressive communicators sometimes take over conversations to avoid the discomfort of not knowing what is being said. Other times, they see all communication difficulties as being the speaker’s fault, rather than taking responsibility in working to understand their partner.
An assertive communication style is ideal because it balances the needs of both communication partners. People with an assertive style take responsibility for their hearing and understanding, but also ask when they need help understanding the speaker. An assertive style is based on mutual respect and works very well for most people.
Here are some things you can do to be a more assertive communicator:
Remember the basics
There are some basic things to remember to maintain strong communication in spite of hearing loss, no matter what environment you’re in. Here are some tips:
- Let others know that you have hearing loss upfront. Be mindful that not everyone knows how to talk with someone with hearing loss, so give your partner tips right off the bat. Say things like: “Because I have hearing loss, I use lip reading to help me understand a conversation. Would you mind speaking a bit slowly and moving your hand away from your mouth? I’ll have an easier time understanding that way.”
- Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for what you need.
- Keep background noise low. Turn down the TV or radio, and turn off fans and running water so you can hear more easily.
- If you are unsure you understood, summarize what you think was said so the speaker can confirm or explain again.
- Face the person you’re speaking with. Some people don’t even realize they use lip reading, but you might notice that things are easier when you’re facing your partner.
- Try to keep a sense of humor. You aren’t the only one that mishears things, and communicating with hearing loss requires a lot of brain power, concentration and patience. You may get tired after communicating in very difficult listening environments like a noisy party. Don’t be too hard on yourself and give yourself a break in a quiet area to revamp.
- Remember that hearing and communicating might be affected by feeling anxious or tired. If you’re too tired or distracted for a conversation, ask to postpone.
Set the scene
The things to do before starting or joining a conversation depend on what environment you are in. Still, here are some tips to make communication effective and meaningful:
- Do your best to have a conversation in a place with good lighting so you are able to see the speaker’s face, gestures and body language.
- If you’re heading to a restaurant with friends or family, try to arrange a time that is not during peak dining hours. For example, on Friday or Saturday nights, restaurants can get incredibly crowded in the evening, so 5 p.m. might be ideal. Also, pick a restaurant that you know has minimum noise and ample lighting.
- When you’re with a group of people, try to position yourself in the middle of the room so you have visual access to most people’s faces.
- If you’re joining a conversation with a group, ask for the conversation topic so you have contextual cues.
Sometimes, problems will occur in a conversation. You may not have understood what the other person said, or that person seems confused by your response. Here are some communication repair strategies to help get you back on track:
Even before repair strategies are needed, you can anticipate what you might need to know. For example, obtain and read an agenda before an important meeting, and review the names of party guests before you arrive at an event.
Ask for help
Many times you’ll have to ask the speaker to make adjustments to help you participate in the conversation. You can ask the speaker to:
- Get your attention before starting a conversation
- Face you when speaking
- Repeat more slowly
- Rephrase what he or she has said
- Give you the key word or subject of conversation
- Spell a word
- Write something down, especially important dates, times or appointments
- Use gestures
- Simplify or shorten the sentence
Here are some tips for asking politely and making the speaker feel comfortable with adjusting:
- Use “I” statements
- Say thank you
- Be specific
- Explain why you need an adjustment
- Be polite
Maybe the environment is the problem – poor lighting, too much background noise and acoustic problems. Change environments gracefully by saying “I really wish I could hear you better. Do you mind if we move to the other room where it’s less noisy?”
People with hearing loss are often afraid to guess what the speaker has said for fear of saying the wrong thing in response and looking foolish. But you pick up on more contextual and non-verbal cues than you think. Just make sure to voice your guess out loud so the other person can confirm if that is what was said or not.
Check what you heard
Check in with the speaker. You can say “Did you say … ” or “I think you said … is that correct?”