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 LWHL’s 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 my 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?

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

58 thoughts on “How to Have A Better Conversation With Someone With Hearing Loss

  1. This is great advice, thanks for the blog.

    I struggle with many of these issues, and often with children as they have less understanding of these things, though they usually have more patience than adults to work with me if i cannot hear them the first time.

    Several additions to the list 1) if you are going to try to talk to someone with hearing loss in a car and they are driving, it can be very distracting and remember that visual cues are really helpful and aren’t available if eyes have to be on the road! wait for a light, or (as noted above) speak loudly, clearly, slowly and in a solid rhythm if you want to have a chance to be heard. this is particularly true if you aren’t in the same seating row in the car.

    Don’t whisper. Even with hearing aids, forget it! without visual cues, it can be very very hard to hear, and very frustrating to both parties, as who doesn’t love a good whisper, but who wouldn’t be frustrated by a failed whisper attempt?

    Don’t call out from another room and start speaking…either walk to the person who can’t hear well, or call them, make sure they hear you, and wait for them to come to you. secondly, regarding being in another room, take turns on who has to move, it can be very trying to always be made to come see the other person when you can’t hear well, it makes it seem like its your fault and that only you are responsible for hearing what is being said to you.

  2. Hello my name is Angela I am hearing impaired.When the fan is on in the classroom my hearing aids makes it hard to hear.I am a teacher aid , what can I do to solved this problem.

  3. I have Meniere’s, which is slowly killing my hearing and sense of balance.

    I agree with all of your suggestions in the post. I tell people if I can’t see their lips and if they don’t speak clearly, I basically hear something that resembles Charlie Brown’s teacher.

  4. I played soccer in my youth and sadly took a few too many cleats to the ears. I have lost about 60% hearing in my right ear and 30% in my left. I also am the most stubborn person in the world when it comes to hearing aids, as in, I haven’t gotten any yet. I am in the market though because nothing is more frustrating when someone is trying to talk to you and you can’t tell what they are saying, especially being a mom. I think it will be a good change! I will be passing these tips along!

  5. I am 30 years old and have had trouble hearing for the past 10 years. Sometimes my wife gets greatly annoyed with me and thinks I am making it up. I have not had my hearing checked out of fear she might be right and fear she is wrong.

    I will say that everything on this list hits home for me (exception being the hearing aids). I have trained my children to come to me and get my attention before talking. My wife is used to normal interactions and gets frustrated when I cannot hear her clearly from another room or I ask her to repeat what she said.

    Should I just suck it up and get tested?

  6. These are some great tips, and I appreciate your advice to enunciate clearly when speaking to someone with hearing aids. My grandpa recently got his, and I think he’s still trying to adjust to everything. When speaking to him, I’ll definitely try to enunciate clearly so he can understand me. Thanks for the great post!

  7. My mom really struggles with hearing loss and unfortunately, I don’t get to see her very often. We usually talk on the phone but she can’t really hear me that way either. I have heard about amplified telephones and that they can be really helpful to those struggling with hearing loss. Talking to my mom is something that I really miss so I will have to look into that for her. These tips will definitely help when we talk in person, thank you for sharing.

  8. […] I write a blog called Living With Hearing Loss to share the ups and downs of living with hearing loss and to build a community for others with hearing loss. My goal for the blog is to help others live more comfortably with their own hearing loss. My most popular posts discuss the difficulties of living with hearing loss, but I always try to include some tips or suggestions on how to counteract these challenges in the post. Examples of this include 5 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Hearing Loss and Do You Get Hearing Loss Exhaustion? Other popular posts include tips for things like How To Choose A Restaurant When You Have Hearing Loss or How To Have A Better Conversation With Someone With Hearing Loss. […]

  9. Thanks for these GREAT TIPS on improving communication with anyone dealing with hearing loss. This is exactly why we created The Communicator Surgical Mask. Now, even in difficult environments, seeing the speakers lips is possible. We hope this helps improve patient satisfaction and reduces communication errors in some. If you know a health practitioner who would benefit from a Safe’N’Clear mask, please share our information. We can provide free samples too.

  10. As someone who has had hearing loss for more than 70 years (since day 1) I have found FaceTime difficult to use. While still on the phone with my father his aide set up FaceTime/Skype so for about 10 minutes we both had the phone and FaceTime simultaneously. Great success! We could see each other and I could hear him better with the phone since it shuts out the ambient noise while also trying to lipread him via FaceTime. We were having a great time until his aide took the phone away from my Dad and hung it up(not knowing we were both benefiting from both. Wish we had discovered this method years ago as it would have meant better communication.

    Closed Caption phones are generally free to the public in all states when your audiologist provides your audiogram as proof of need. Only the first one in the house is free. Additional ones must be purchased. I sure wish I had one when I was talking to the CPA and I had to remind him that my miscommunications/misunderstandings were due to my hearing loss. Sadly he responded that that my excuse has probably served me well but he did not accept it. Needless to say he is not my CPA anymore. Had I had the closed caption machine it might have saved us the unpleasant phone exchange.

    In all my 70 years I’ve mostly encountered great folks willing to help and want to make sure you do hear. Sorry to join in so late on this wonderful set of blogs that Shari Ebert provides! I love the Wheel of Fortune concept. Try hearing in the dark someone telling you swordfish – and leave out the s,f,and the sh. Took me a long time to get that one!!! Actually I never did get it but I sure had a lot of laughs!

  11. I just wanted to thank you for helping me understand what my hard of hearing 8 year old is dealing with. After reading this a lot of his struggles at least make sense,

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