How to Have a Better Conversation with Someone with Hearing Loss

All of us with hearing loss know how hard it can sometimes be to converse comfortably with our friends and family. We get tired, frustrated and sometimes just tune out. But it is hard on those that love us as well. They don’t like to see us struggle or be unhappy; and they can get annoyed that we don’t understand what they are saying. Today’s post is for them. Please share these tips with your friends and family and enjoy better conversations!

HOW THOSE WITH HEARING LOSS HEAR

The first step in having better conversations is for our friends and family to understand how those of us with hearing loss actually hear. The best way I know to explain it, is as a game board from Wheel of Fortune. Some of the letters are filled in, others are blank. The contestant (or listener in this case) is trying to make sense of the assorted and incomplete sounds he or she is hearing and turn these sounds into a word or phrase that makes sense in the context of the conversation.

It is also useful to point out that hearing aids don’t work like glasses. Glasses, by bending light through a curved lens, can transform an image that is blurry and distorted into something crisp and clear. So if you wear glasses, in most cases, you can see just like someone with typical vision, or pretty darn close. With hearing aids, this is not the case. Hearing aids are helpful in amplifying sounds, but this just makes them louder, not necessarily crisper or clearer. Most people with hearing loss can hear that someone is talking to them; they just can’t understand what words are being said. The clarity is not there.

Hearing aids also have a tough time differentiating among sounds so that the background noise (i.e., the hum of the refrigerator or the air conditioner) is amplified in addition to the more important sounds of the conversation. This can actually make it harder to hear in certain situations!

HOW TO HAVE A BETTER CONVERSATION WITH SOMEONE WITH HEARING LOSS

So, with that as background, here are our tips for having more satisfying conversations with someone who has hearing loss. Please share your tips and ideas in the comments.

1.  Provide Context Before and When Speaking: Context makes it easier to fill in the blank spaces of the words on the Wheel of Fortune game board. If all you hear is “__oot,” knowing if the conversation is about owls (hoot) or a robbery (loot) or musical instruments (flute) is a big help!

2.  Get Their Attention Before Speaking: Hearing takes concentration for those with hearing loss, so make sure they are ready and are paying attention. Talking to them before they are ready will have them playing catch-up and make it harder for them to understand the context of the conversation.

3.  Make Sure They Can See Your Lips: Lip-reading is helpful in filling in the blanks of what is not heard. I always tell people I can’t hear you if I can’t see you. See Shari's post, I Can’t Hear in the Dark, for more on this. Don’t cover your mouth with your hands and make sure that you are well-lit.

4.  Enunciate Clearly and Speak at a Steady Rate: Remember that volume is only part of the problem. Clarity of the sounds is really key. Speak your words clearly, and try to maintain a regular pace of speech. Rapid speech is very difficult to follow since all that brain processing time is condensed, while slower than typical speech will look weird on the lips and make lip-reading less useful.

5.  Be Aware of The Surroundings: Background noise is a problem, so try to avoid it if you can. Turn off the A/C or at least turn the fan down to low. Don’t play music in the background. Pick a quieter restaurant or request a corner booth. A quiet and well-lit spot always works best.

6.  Take Turns Speaking: If there are multiple people in the conversation, it is important that only one person speaks at a time and that each speaker makes the effort to face the person who has trouble hearing.

7.  Be Prepared to Repeat or Rephrase: Get ready for hearing, “What?,” at least a couple of times during the conversation. Try not to get frustrated, but simply repeat what you have said. If the person does not get it the second time, try rephrasing your thought using different words that might be easier for him or her to hear. Or spell a word that is giving a particularly hard time. Often knowing the first few letters of a word can help to connect the dots.

8.  Keep Your Sense of Humor:  Hey, it can be frustrating, I know. But remember the goal is to connect with one another, so why not laugh at the misunderstandings. It is better than the alternative.

Readers, what tips do you have for improving conversations with someone with hearing loss?

Shari is the Chairman of  HHF's Board of Directors and founder of the blog, Living With Hearing Loss

Thank you Greg F. for these great ideas. Greg is a member of Hearing Health Foundation‘s National Junior Board and is working on a mobile phone app to help those of us with hearing loss find quiet spots in NYC.  

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