“Hi, my name is Shari and I am excited to be at this conference/retreat/class.” This is how it usually begins. We all go around the room and introduce ourselves, give a reason or two why we are here and it moves onto the next person. But at my most recent retreat, I decided to try something different. I began with the typical particulars, but I ended with the following.
“Oh, and I just wanted to mention that I have a hearing loss, so I will be positioning myself as close to the teacher as possible during the exercises (meaningful look in the teacher’s direction to make sure she heard this), and if you speak to me and I don’t answer or if I look at you like you have two heads, please don’t think I am rude, I probably just didn’t hear you. Please try again.”
I had never done that before — made my hearing loss a part of my introduction in front of a group — but I know I will do it again. It worked famously!
First of all, at the introductions, people are typically paying attention, so it was an efficient way to get the message out there, and it made me feel a lot less fearful of dirty looks from others in the group as I moved up close to the speaker at all of the events. A few people even came up to me afterwards and disclosed their own hearing loss or that of a spouse or loved one, which is always a good bonding moment for those of us with hearing loss.
Secondly, it made an impression. Later that day, the teacher made a point of putting me in a good spot for a particularly hard-to-hear segment of the class, and when I needed to ask people to repeat themselves, they seemed more willing to do so (at least the first few times).
Thirdly, I felt much more relaxed. My fear of not being able to hear everything or that I might reply to a question with the answer to something else was gone. Everyone already knew I had a hearing loss, so they would expect a few flubs. The flubs might even be funny. Maybe…
Lastly, I could ask for help as I needed it without a big explanation. For example, I was able to ask people to switch seats with me a few times so I could see (and therefore hear) better at various presentations and at the group dinners. All requests were met with a smile.
Maybe I was just lucky that this particular group was so accommodating, or maybe I felt more comfortable asking for help, but the meeting was one of my most productive and pleasant. I plan to try this announcement trick at my next group function. If it helps even half as much as it did at this particular offsite, it will be worth it.
Readers, do you announce your hearing loss as part of your self-introduction in a group setting?