Active vs. Passive Listening

Sometimes in clinic I hear people describe listening as “reaching to hear”.    I interpret that as a sense of working to listen.  This is also what is referred to as active listening.  What people with normal hearing fail to understand is that when you have hearing loss, most of your listening is active listening.  Even with the use of hearing aids, making a concentrated effort to hear is required.  This is in contrast to the passive listening that many people with normal hearing do without even thinking about it. 

For example, I'm chopping vegetables in the kitchen and my husband starts out of the blue asking me about where I put the kids’ hockey skates.  This is out of context to what I am doing and he is not facing me and is actively looking for the skates, and he didn’t get my attention prior to speaking.  But, incredibly, the sounds flowed through to my brain unimpeded and I was able to answer the question without needing it repeated.  Our brains are amazing to be able to do this so fluidly. 

It’s not that easy when someone has hearing loss.  It takes more time to localize the sound source and catch the first few words so right off the bat, the person with hearing loss could need repetition before the 3rd word of the question is said.  There is one quick and easy tip.  Use the person’s name.  Getting someone’s attention prior to launching into speech switches the attention to active listening and then, not unlike being in the ready position when you are shortstop in a baseball game, the hard of hearing person  can catch the conversation ball and not fall behind. 

This can be incredibly helpful not only to the listener, but to the speaker as well as it may be the key to not having to repeat.