For people living with hearing loss, communication with the hearing world is difficult. Those who can hear well often take for granted the ability to do so without making eye contact or speaking directly towards someone.
In order to have a meaningful, two-way conversation where both parties communicate clearly, here are a few things to keep in mind.
When you’re in a crowded area such as a restaurant or event center, it can be difficult to hear what those around you are saying. For someone living with hearing loss it can be frustrating and almost impossible at times.
For those who can hear fine, our ears and brain work together to naturally sift through background noise and pick out the voice or sound we want to hear in almost any environment. When people with less than perfect hearing attempt to keep up in this situation it can be difficult, exhausting, and even painful to have a comprehensive conversation in a loud environment.
As long as we’re not in a soundproof room, we have the ability to pick out distinct sounds going on around us, like a furnace or air conditioner. Our ability to block out background noises is quite thorough most of the time, except for something loud or annoying like a mosquito buzzing by our head.
Hearing loss makes it difficult to filter out the things they don’t want to hear. Low sounds are not as difficult to block out, though in truth they are not heard that easily or often. It’s the medium to loud noises that present more difficulty.
If you must meet in a loud or crowded area, consider adjusting your timing and going when they’re not as busy. There’s also the option to request a quiet table away from the din of the restaurant kitchen or bar area. When that’s not an option you can always head to another place of business that’s a bit more conversation-friendly.
While not everyone with hearing loss has mastered the art of reading lips, many do use visual cues such as whether the words you’re saying require you to ‘puff air’ when you say words such as with ‘mother’ or ‘brother’. This ability is known as speechreading, which was previously called lip-reading. Due to the fact that people actually use the entire face for clues to what their companion is talking about the term was updated.
This is a very effective way for many people with decreased hearing to understand what others are saying, but that’s not always the case. Some people never learn to speechread, but for those who do, it can be a challenge.
Many words appear similar as they are spoken such as “time” and “wine”. Watching in the mirror, you’ll see that the lips move in the same manner making them appear the same. Words like these are very difficult for others to discern.
At the same time, you don’t want to over enunciate the words either. Exaggerating the way you speak can alter the cues needed to speechread. This can be confusing for someone attempting to figure out what you’re saying. Speaking naturally will have much better results.
Ensure there is adequate light when making conversation with someone who has diminished hearing. If they can’t see you, they won’t be able to hear you. Also be sure you are in the same room with them. People with full hearing often take this for granted by talking back and forth from room to room. If your companion can’t hear well and you’re trying to talk through the wall at them, you won’t get the results you wanted unless they have X-ray vision and can see you through the walls.
If you’ve ever been told not to talk with food in your mouth, this is a great time to practice that lesson. Talking while packing food into your cheeks can reshape the words you say and make it very difficult for speechreaders to understand what you are trying to say. Not to mention that nobody wants to see half chewed food while trying to converse.
Lastly, if you say something and your companion asks you to repeat it, be sure to face them straight on and try again. If they still aren’t able to pick up what you say, rephrase it. Try using different word to say what you mean. It can be difficult when many words have the same lip motions.
It is frustrating to the other person if you just give up and tell them to “Never mind.” If you have another way of communicating such as texting or writing the words down or even if you can gesture to help get your point across, that is much better than just giving up. In the event it’s simply not possible to get your point across, simply say “I’ll tell you later,” but be sure that you remember to do that. Trying to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t follow through can be equally frustrating and create a barrier of trust as well.
Remember that the person you are talking to has difficulty hearing, but if you use the skills above, you should both be able to walk away from it feeling that you had a meaningful conversation.