John Powel once stated that “Communication works for those who work at it.” People with hearing loss have to work extra hard to successfully communicate in their day-to-day lives.
Even when hearing aids are used and the person with hearing loss employs communication strategies, communication breakdowns often occur.
One of the most common reasons for a communication breakdown is poor speaking etiquette of the individuals involved in the communication process. Common examples include sloppy or mumbled speech, obstructing visual cues, or talking from another room. These behaviors are generally unintentional and easy to modify.
Consider the following tips when communicating with a person who wears hearing aids to help them achieve effective and less stressful communication.
Everyone, regardless of whether or not they have normal or impaired hearing, benefits when speakers do not mumble but rather use clear speech. Clear speech is a speaking style that focuses on clearer pronunciation of sounds, speaking at normal rate (not too fast or too slow), and using pauses to allow the listener time to process what is being said. It is common for people to speak too loud or at an unnaturally slow pace when they first find out the person they are communicating with wears hearing aids. Speaking too loud can be painful to the hearing aid wearer or distort the words; talking too slow can be quite distracting or even offensive. So when speaking, especially to the hearing aid wearer, channel your inner Walter Cronkite.
Optimize Visual Communication
One of the biggest benefits of face-to-face communication is that the listener can take advantage of visual or lip-reading cues. This benefit is even greater for those with hearing loss. In fact, decades of research have shown that the addition of visual cues to the audio signal yields substantial gains in speech understanding, especially in adverse listening situations. To optimize visual communication for the hearing aid user keep the following things in mind:
- Keep hands or other barriers away from your face
- Avoid talking with food in your mouth
- Do not chew gum
- Heavy beards and moustaches may hide lip-reading cues
- Optimal lip-reading ability occurs at a distance of 5 feet but decreases markedly at 20+ feet
- Converse in an area with good lighting
- Face the hearing aid wearer directly
- Avoid conversations from another room
Get Their Attention
An easy way to improve communication is to get the hearing aid users attention before starting to talk. Whether it’s waving, tapping the person on the shoulder, or establishing eye contact and saying their name, it will indicate to the listener that you would like to talk. This gives them the opportunity to shift their attention, catch the beginning (not just the end) of what is said, and maximize lip-reading cues.
Be Aware of the Listening Environment
The listening environments we are in on a daily basis can vary greatly. When communicating with a hearing aid user take note of the listening environment you are in. Keep in mind that it is easier for hearing aid users to communicate in quieter (ex. one-on-one situations, small group situations) than in louder environments (ex. sporting events, restaurant/party situations, car). When possible, select places where the listening environment is more favorable for effective communication. If a noisy situation is unavoidable, like in a restaurant, consider accommodating the hearing aid user by:
- Letting them sit with their back to a wall
- When making a reservation, request a table away from the kitchen and bar area
- Avoid places with live music
- Sit in a booth when possible
- Acquaint the listener with the general topic of the conversation
Hearing aids provide those with hearing loss access to the everyday sounds of their lives however, they do not return the user’s hearing back to normal. This means that while the user may hear your voice, they still may have difficulty understanding some words. Implementing clear speech, optimizing visual cues, and when possible making special accommodations are all effective ways to improve communication but always remember to be kind and patient when communicating with the hearing aid user. There may be times when you may need to repeat, rephrase, simplify, or write down what you are trying to say. If you do become frustrated, imagine how the person with hearing loss feels as they feel this every single day.
Keep these simple tips in mind the next time you communicate with a person who has hearing loss. Have any additional advice? Leave them in the comments below!