What Margaret Thatcher Taught Me about Communicating Well with Hearing Loss

Do you watch The Crown, Netflix’s show about the British monarchy? I watch each season with my daughter and the latest was no exception. We enjoy the pageantry and the intrigue, but this time, we also learned something — a better way to communicate with hearing loss. Season 4 of The Crown was set during Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister so she was a prominent character. I always watch Netflix with the closed captions on, and usually I need them urgently for The Crown because of the British accents. But whenever Margaret Thatcher’s character would speak, I could understand without the captions, since she enunciated each word to perfection.

Margaret Thatcher had a very distinct way of speaking and the actress playing this role did a wonderful job matching her vocal style. Thatcher spoke slowly and calmly, drawing out the consonant and vowel sounds so that each one was audible. Sometimes it sounded almost monotone, certainly upper crusty — some would say pompous — yet the style held people’s attention. And it made her very easy to understand. Apparently Thatcher did not always speak like this, but made a strategic decision to alter her speech to advance her political career. It seems to have worked!

Speaking Slowly and Clearly Makes Communication Easier

Because it was fun, my daughter and I started reading the captions out loud along with the dialogue as if we were Margaret Thatcher. Then we continued conversing in this style, making up our own plot points. We were having a ball — laughing and talking — and I could hear every word.

My daughter has a soft voice, and like most teenagers, speaks rapidly. I sometimes have trouble keeping up. But as Margaret Thatcher, my daughter’s pitch dropped and her speed slowed. She was easier to lipread and I could understand her easily. We continued to speak like Margaret Thatcher for several days, which drove the rest of the family crazy. But we didn’t care.

While this all started in good fun, it highlights how important one’s manner of speaking can be in good communication — especially when conversing with someone with hearing loss. Using communication best practices like clearly enunciating words and speaking at a moderate pace give us a leg up on speechreading and therefore, understanding. When combined with other strategies like getting our attention first, keeping mouths uncovered and providing context up front, conversation with someone with hearing loss can be much easier. Even in your normal voice…

Readers, what communication best practices do you recommend?

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10 thoughts on “What Margaret Thatcher Taught Me about Communicating Well with Hearing Loss

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Good point. Elocution is a wonderful and much needed skill! Thanks for your comment.

  1. So true! Reminds me of how adamant my father was about his five children speaking clearly and slowly. He misunderstood our dinner table conversation so often that he’d hold “articulation” seminars before dessert could be shared. He claimed that he didn’t want us to grow up with a “fast and sloppy NY accent.” Maybe it was the beginning of his own hearing loss? We think he has needed hearing aids for the last 15 years and still won’t get tested for them.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      I make similar speeches to my children so hearing loss was probably a factor. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Thanks for this one, Shari. I highlight this line from your essay: “my daughter’s pitch dropped and her speed slowed”. One of my pet peeves in spoken word today–especially on broadcast (if we may still call it that)–relates to younger women and the PITCH of their voices–too often high–and the speed–too rapid. If I did not see them, I would think them children, from their voices!! Among other things, the speaking style does not aid in comprehension, not does it sound mature or educated. Some say the style began with “valley-girl speak” on TV back in the 80s. It’s also called “uptalk”. It continues, much to the detriment of many young women in communications–from my perspective, and to the difficulty for many of us in understanding/enjoyment.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Good observation. Very true. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. My husband who was my first hearing aid learned to speak onstage as a child.I appreciate through my problems with hearing loss he still often interrupts soft speakers for me.He doesn’t have to work as hard now that I have hearing aids.lol Thanks for subject.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  4. Excellent article and delightful read! Yes closed caption is incorrect often as well as my visual voicemail…lots if words wrong or with question marks as well as when the speaker is so bad, it says ‘no text to voicemail!’

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Captions can definitely be mixed. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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