Our ability to hear, listen, and communicate is something we often take for granted. These are natural human functions and we never expect to ever be without them. But hearing loss affects approximately 38.2 million people in the United States. It’s the second most common disability, yet it is an invisible condition. The many people who live with it often experience frustration, miscommunication, and unpleasantness from others.
If you know someone who has hearing loss of any degree, be mindful of how you communicate with them. Even with hearing aids, sometimes it is still hard for the person to hear. Although the majority of people with hearing loss can live fulfilling, happy lives, it is often their interactions with other people that cause them the most distress. Whether it’s a parent, a partner, or a friend, it’s essential to communicate with them effectively. Of course, there will be times when miscommunication between the two of you can be stressful and frustrating, but you can learn to get past these obstacles. No one wants to have hearing loss, and it’s not their fault. If you show irritation or anger, you may cause your loved one to feel bad. With the right techniques, you can convey understanding and have meaningful conversations without either of you becoming annoyed or upset.
Here are seven tips for talking to someone with hearing loss.
Look at them directly
Not all people with hearing loss are skilled lip readers, but they will gain a lot of information from your facial expressions and other visual cues. For this reason, remember to always face your loved one when speaking to them. Although you may sometimes forget and ask a question with your back to them, keep this practice up over time and it will become a habit. If you are sitting in a restaurant or at the dinner table, make sure you sit directly opposite them so they can see you.
A common misconception about people with hearing loss is that you need to scream and shout at them to get their point across. This will only cause them distress and remove any enjoyment from your interaction. As long as you speak clearly and articulately at a slightly higher volume than usual, they will be able to understand you. Speak in an audible voice, refrain from mumbling, and make sure you pronounce your words correctly to avoid confusion.
Don’t obscure your face
A large proportion of the information conveyed in conversation is visual, so it’s essential that your loved one can clearly see your face when speaking to you. You probably wouldn’t instinctively think about things like the lighting conditions but if the room is too dark, they might struggle. The same goes if you have a big bushy beard, or you tend to cover your mouth when you talk.
Use gestures wisely
Hand gestures and facial expressions can be useful in getting information across, but don’t feel you need to overdo it. This can end up simply confusing the person with hearing loss and will make it more difficult to converse. Use natural gestures as you normally would, but don’t exaggerate them.
Eliminate background noise
For someone with hearing loss, conflicting sounds and background noise can make it incredibly difficult and stressful to follow a conversation. Try to meet your loved one in noise-free places such as a quiet park or coffee shop. If at home, switch off the radio and television so they can focus on what you are saying.
Think about the words you use
There will always be times when the person you’re talking to can’t understand what you’re saying. One of the best things you can do is to think about the way you phrase your sentences. Try to convey the essential information without adding extraneous words or tangents. Remember that certain sounds such as “M” and “CH” are made inside the mouth so can be difficult to lipread. If you find it hard to get your meaning across, try using synonyms that are easier to comprehend.
Being unable to get your point across can be stressful, but you need to remember that it’s probably just as frustrating for the person trying to understand you. Stay calm and try not to get annoyed or angry as this will only upset them. Keep reminding yourself that it’s not their fault and instead, focus on ways you could improve your method of communication.
Talking to someone with hearing loss can be stressful and challenging for both parties, but by following the above techniques you will make the process a lot easier. Learn more about different ways of helping a loved one with hearing loss.
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