“One hood or two today?” my doorman asked me as I crossed the lobby each morning on my way to yoga class pre-COVID. Chit chat about the weather ensued. Whether I was wearing one or two hoods (one from my hoodie and one from my coat) depended mostly on the forecast for the day. These brief encounters always brought a smile to my face — a splash of human contact to start the morning.
Eye contact, visible smiles, lingering for some small talk — all things I have missed since the pandemic began. These days, if I leave my apartment at all, our chat is more cursory — a silent head nod or one or two words of greeting. Our routine cut short by caution and the difficulties masks create for everyday conversation. I miss these small bursts of human connection that used to be commonplace.
But I also fear them. As the vaccine rollout continues and cities and towns begin to emerge from their pandemic slumber, I wonder if my dormant communication skills will be up to the task.
Have Your Communication Skills Been Hibernating?
For the past year, my in-person conversations have been few and far between. While I speak with my immediate family on a daily basis, other face-to-face meetings have been limited. Instead, I spend most of my time working and socializing with others over Zoom. I have grown skilled at conversations in this medium, including the use of auto-captioning as an assist — either directly in the Zoom platform or through speech-to-text apps on my phone. (If you still don’t have Zoom’s auto-captions on your account, sign up for free access here.)
But how will my skills hold up when in-person chit chat resumes? Will I be searching for the non-existent caption bar? Will I miss the full frontal view of everyone’s face which made it easier to speechread? How will I fare in noisier environments where speech competes with background noise like in a restaurant or coffee shop? It’s time to take my in-person communication skills out of hibernation.
Communication Best Practices Refresher
Keep these ten tips in mind as you re-enter the land of in-person conversation. Please add your additions in the comments.
- Notify or remind others about your hearing loss and ask them to do whatever you need them to do to help you hear your best.
- Seek out quiet and well lit spaces to minimize background noise and help with speechreading.
- Advocate for your needs. When necessary, ask the manager to turn down the music or to move you to a quieter table.
- Pick a seat in the corner or with your back against a wall to minimize distractions from behind.
- Make sure the person is facing you and has their mouth uncovered.
- In a group, sit across from the person that is hardest for you to hear to aid with lipreading.
- Ask people to speak one at a time and to face you while doing do.
- Use non-verbal cues. A cupped hand by the side of the ear asks them to speak louder without breaking the flow of the conversation.
- Remember your speech-to-text apps, remote mics and other technology tricks. They will work here too.
- Pace yourself and take breaks as needed to recharge your battery. Conversing with hearing loss takes concentration.
Most importantly, approach each conversation with a positive attitude and forgive yourself if you are struggling. It may take some time to rebuild our in-person conversation muscles and to restore stamina. Hopefully, we will have plenty of opportunities to practice our skills in the months and years ahead.
For more communication tips, read Six Steps Those With Hearing Loss Can Take to Communicate Better. For tips to share with your conversation partners see How to Have a Better Conversation with Someone with Hearing Loss.
Readers, are your in-person communication skills feeling a bit rusty?