To successfully communicate, there need to be two participants; the ‘talker’ who sends the message and the ‘receiver’ who listens to the message. Active listening and other strategies can be used to help improve conversations and make the atmosphere an ideal setting for those with hearing impairments.
When speaking to a person with hearing loss, here are ten great tips for better communication:
1. Speak Clearly
Using sharp and clear pronunciation with your words is especially important when talking to those who are hard of hearing. Don’t go overboard by shouting, talking too loud, or exaggerating because this can distort words. On the flip side, mumbling or whispering is extremely hard to understand even for those with normal hearing. Just make sure to speak at a reasonable, precise, comfortable rate, use pauses to give them time to process, and use specific clues when changing subjects such as “moving on” or “new topic.”
2. Grab Their Attention
Before you even begin speaking, grab the listener’s attention either verbally or visually. For example, you can say his/her name, touch their arm lightly, or wave your hand to make sure they see you and are ready to engage. If someone’s hearing is better in one ear, move to that side of the person. These tips will ensure the listener will not miss out on the earliest parts of the conversation.
3. Rephrase and Don’t Repeat
Various sounds, tones, or words can be difficult for those with hearing loss to process. If you said something and they have difficulty understanding, repeat it one time. If they’re still having difficulty try finding an alternative way of saying it. For example, if you’re trying to say you’re going to the gym, rephrase it by saying you are going to run or lift weights. Hearing it differently will likely be easier for the listener to understand and piece together.
4. Keep Your Hands Away from Your Face
Ensuring that you’re keeping your hands away from your face will allow the listener to see your mouth and face. These visual cues are a huge part of listening for those that are hard of hearing. Most listeners will watch the person’s face to interpret conversations better. This is called ‘speech reading.’ Many sounds that are hard to hear are much easier to see on mouths, such as the letter ‘S.’ By keeping your hands away from your face, you’ll also be able to speak more clearly.
5. Great Lighting is Crucial
As we mentioned above, reading faces by speech reading is so essential for those with hearing loss. Wherever you are, make sure to sit in a location with good lighting so that your face is visible. If you’re sitting somewhere that’s dark or poorly lit; it can cause shadows on the person’s face, making it even more challenging to understand.
6. Eliminate Background Noise
Take note of your surroundings before you begin a conversation. If you’re at home, lower the TV or music. If you’re out, sit in quieter areas away from large parties or kitchen noise. Reducing background noises will immediately set the conversation up for better success.
7. Maintain Eye Contact
Eye contact is powerful for a reason – it works! Your facial expressions and body language are the key to communicating. By making consistent eye contact with the person with hearing loss, you can help express happiness, confusion, excitement, frustration, and more. See for yourself how powerful eye contact communication can be.
8. Repeat Important Information
If you’re giving out important information to someone hard of hearing, have them repeat what you told them back to you. Many words and numbers sound very much alike, which can confuse. If you’re giving out specific phone numbers, addresses, or times, the last thing you want is for them to have misunderstood one number or word and call or go to the wrong place. Repeating or writing it down ensures everyone is on the same page.
9. Utilize Technology
If you look up applications on your smartphone, you will see a variety of helpful downloads that you can speak into and have your words show up on the screen. If you don’t wish to download an app, texting is also a great communication tool to clear up any confusion or to tell an elaborate story.
10. Be Patient
Talking to someone with hearing loss can be potentially frustrating at times. You’ll likely need to repeat, rephrase, and accommodate your life to help them communicate better – but remember to do it with patience. While it can certainly be frustrating for you to conversate with them, it’s equally as frustrating for those suffering from hearing loss. They’re working very hard to piece together words, facial expressions, and continually filling in the blanks to communicate with you. Be patient; they will greatly appreciate it.
Communicating with hearing loss is a team effort and requires effort on both sides of the conversation. By following these helpful tips, you can help ensure better communication.
If you or a loved one have experienced hearing loss, come and visit us at SLENT to see how we can help. Hearing health care is so important, and we want you to experience life to the full. Our personalized plans and dedicated team work hard to give you the best hearing care. Why not encourage a loved one to book a hearing test or contact us to see how we can help you.
Dr. JJ Martinez served active duty in the United States Marine Corps before receiving his bachelor’s degree from Southeastern Louisiana University in 2005 and his doctoral degree from Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in 2010. Dr. Martinez is a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology and a member of the American Speech Language and Hearing Association.