Since May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, it’s a good time to think about building relationships by improving communication skills and breaking down barriers. Hearing loss creates quite a communication barrier and impacts everyone involved in a conversation. The individual with hearing loss often feels isolated from conversation, fatigued at trying to keep up, and may end up withdrawing altogether. The person communicating with them often feels frustration and apprehension at the thought of having to speak up so everyone else hears a conversation possibly intended to be private.
There are a few simple tips that can help enhance conversation with a loved one who is not hearing the best, whether they use hearing aids or not. First of all, get the person’s attention before speaking to them, and try to have conversations face to face. Believe it or not, we actually do use facial cues to understand conversations. Speak up, but don’t shout. Speak slowly and clearly, but don’t over-emphasize. Try to state something in a different way if not understood rather than repeating it over and over. Make sure your face is completely visible, and minimize obstructions such as holding your hand in front of your mouth or chewing while you are speaking.
If you are in a noisy area, try to move your conversation into an area where background noise is limited and that has good lighting that will enhance your facial expressions. The closer you are, the clearer your speech will usually be, so try to be within three to six feet of the person you are talking to. Group conversations are extremely difficult, so take turns talking and try not to interrupt. Finally, ask the person with hearing loss if there is anything you can do to make communication easier.
If you are the person with hearing loss, consider having your hearing monitored at least annually and using hearing aids to improve your hearing ability as much as possible. Make sure you have your hearing aids cleaned regularly to keep them fresh and free from malfunction. Be up front with others, and let them know that you have some difficulty hearing. Watch faces, and try to wait until the main idea has been stated. Try not to interrupt in the middle of a conversation because you may inadvertently change the course of the conversation.
Please think about the month of May as a good time to break down barriers and improve meaningful conversation, and try to put these communication tips into practice throughout the year.
Nora L. Fuchs, Au.D.