Hearing loss doesn’t just impact one individual. Because listening is such an important part of communication (as well as human connection), when the message can’t get through, all parties are affected - including the speaker and other participants in the conversation.
When communication is hampered by hearing loss, it can easily lead to misunderstandings, delays, frustration - and if it’s not dealt with appropriately - social isolation.
Here are a few strategies to help improve your conversations. Regardless of who is experiencing hearing loss, both the speaker and the hearer have a role to play.
What is a communication strategy?
Communication is an exchange of information.
A communication strategy is how we choose to convey that information.
There are three different types of communication strategies:
Verbal communication strategies: just as it sounds, this is where we use words to convey our meaning, using either speech or writing.
Non-verbal communication strategies: this is where tone and body language - including eye contact and hand gestures - come in. For example, consider how a simple phrase like Yes please takes on a totally different meaning if said with an eye roll versus a shrug, versus with clasped hands!
Visual communication strategies: this is where we use photographs, charts and graphics to help illustrate our point. Visual communication strategies are especially useful in simplifying complex information and data.
Using a combination of all three strategies will help you communicate most successfully.
The benefits of good communication strategies
Whether we have hearing loss or not, we can all strive to be better communicators.
By controlling habits such as interrupting or talking over others, we not only demonstrate respect for the speaker, but we make it easier for everyone to hear.
Here are some examples of the benefits of using good communication strategies and the consequences of choosing poor communication strategies:
Recognizing hearing loss in your conversation partner
Because hearing loss occurs so gradually over time, it’s often the people around the person who notice their hearing loss first.
And while we all want to be gracious conversationalists, we never want our communication support to be the only assistance our hearing impaired loved ones receive.
If you notice ongoing patterns in your conversation partner, it may be time to recommend to check in with an Audiologist.
Here are common signs your conversation partner may be experiencing hearing loss:
- Asking you to repeat what you’ve said
- Complaining that you’re mumbling or not speaking clearly
- Missing words or guessing at what others are saying
- Speaking too loudly or talking over others
- Responding incorrectly or jumping into conversation at the wrong moment
Strategies for speaking to someone with hearing aids
While hearing aids bring sounds back into range, they do not restore hearing loss. That means factors like distance, ambient noise and other considerations can still get in the way of clear communication.
Here are some best practices when speaking with someone who wears hearing aids to help ensure a successful conversation:
- Face the person you’re speaking with, in good light.
- Speak slowly, clearly and distinctly – don’t shout or exaggerate mouth movements, as this makes reading lips harder.
- Don’t talk from another room - speak where you can see each other.
- Keep your hands from covering your face, as many non-verbal signals come from facial expressions.
- Reduce background noise and other distractions (such as turning off the radio or TV, even if it’s in the background).
Best practices for conveying important information to someone with hearing loss
In a perfect world, everyone would hear everything we have to say. But some messages are more important than others.
Here are some tips to ensure our important message gets through, regardless of any hearing loss our listener may be experiencing:
- Get the person’s attention before speaking to them.
- Make sure you are close enough to hear - face-to-face is best if possible.
- Whenever possible, provide relevant details - like directions, schedules and assignments - in writing.
- Pay attention – if your listener looks confused, they likely are. Ask questions to make sure your message has been understood.
How has technology changed communication?
You may remember a time when each household had one television for the entire home. Your telephone was attached to the wall (or sat on a desk), and was used solely for voice calls. Remember that?!
Today, our technology is almost omni-present and far more powerful, and we need to remember to practise good communication strategies with our devices too.
For better understanding and comprehension, consider:
- Turning off the television or music in the room where you’re talking.
- Setting down your phone or computer to help you focus on face-to-face conversation.
- Communicating by text or email may help those with hearing loss understand the message more clearly in writing.
- In certain situations, it may also be helpful to use voice-to-text functions on your phone or computer…but be careful - this technology is not perfect yet, and may lead to crossed wires! Make sure to double check the written output to ensure it matches what you intended to say.
Three final tips to effective communication
Remember, when it comes to good communication it takes two to tango: a speaker and a listener.
To ensure you both have a positive experience and achieve your communication goals, remember to:
- Be aware of the person you’re speaking with.
- Know how (and when) to speak, ensuring you’re speaking clearly and articulating well, without shouting or interrupting.
- Check in often – ask good questions to make sure your listener understands you, and to make sure you understand them as well.
And finally, if you’ve noticed you or your favourite conversation partner are struggling to communicate, it's time to speak to an Audiologist. Our Audiologists will assess your hearing and recommend a variety of supports and treatments - like hearing aids - to help you back to communicating effectively again.
Call us or request an appointment online to schedule an appointment: Broadmead Hearing Clinic: 250-479-2969 or Oak Bay Hearing Clinic: 250-479-2921.