Someone at the end of the table was telling a funny story. Someone else jumped in to add a related comment or share an anecdote. Interrupting was the norm. As was covering mouths with hands when speaking. The pace was rapid fire. The background noise was incessant. But nobody seemed to mind. There were smiles and laughter and joy — a celebration of the camaraderie and interconnection of the group as each person enjoyed this special connection with new friends.
Except for me. I was at the other end of the table, too far from the speaker to get in on the action and too overwhelmed with the pace of the overlapping chatter to even try. In the moment, I felt isolated and alone, but strangely, also gratitude. I realized how lucky I am that I spend most of my time in the land of well-trained conversation partners. I vowed to try to remember that feeling the next time my family and friends forgot to talk so I could hear them.
How To Speak To Someone With Hearing Loss
Communicating with someone with hearing loss takes some work, especially in a group situation like a meal. Here I share my best practice tips for effective communication with someone with hearing loss. Please add your suggestions in the comments.
1. Keep your mouth visible: People with hearing loss hear with their ears AND their eyes. Seeing your lips provides critical lipreading cues that help us with speech comprehension.
2. Speak one person at a time: An orderly flow of the conversation is essential for lipreading. If more than one person is speaking, we don’t know where to look. Overlapping voices are also very challenging to disentangle.
3. Talk clearly and at a moderate pace: Rapid speech leaves too little processing time as we work to piece together the auditory and visual information we are receiving into a coherent sentence. Enunciate your words as clearly as you can. Perhaps a renewed emphasis on diction would benefit us all!
4. Face us even when talking to others: This is a hard one because naturally people turn towards their conversation partners, but if that happens to be in the opposite direction to where we are seated, we probably won’t be able to hear.
5. Optimize the seating arrangement. I try to organize the table so that the most challenging speaker for me to hear is seated across from me on the diagonal. That way when that person turns to speak to the person next to them, it is still likely to be in my general direction. This works best in a group of 4.
6. Be prepared to repeat or rephrase. It often saves time and frustration if I repeat the words that I have heard so my conversation partner only has to fill in the part that I missed.
7. Be attentive. Glance over at the person with hearing loss occasionally to see if they are following the conversation. If they are leaning forward or looking confused, they probably are having trouble. Adjusting your behavior before being asked is tremendously thoughtful.
8. Don’t shout. Louder is not always better for people with hearing loss. Clarity can often be more helpful than additional volume. Yelling also distorts your lips making lipreading harder.
My family, friends and I have invested significant time and effort to figure how we can communicate as efficiently and effectively as possible with one another. Spending time with the uninitiated helped me develop more appreciation for the conversation partners I have at home. I complain about them sometimes, but when compared to the general population, they are pretty well trained!
Readers, do you have well trained communication partners in your life?