Conversation Tips for Hearing People and People with Hearing Loss
Communication between hard of hearing and hearing people can be challenging, but can be accomplished in a way that is comfortable for everyone.
Tips for hard of hearing people
- Let others know that you have a hearing loss
- Ask for help if you require it and tell other people what you need
- Ask for repetition or clarification if you need it - don't let anyone brush you off by saying, "It's not important" - if it was important enough to say the first time, it is important enough to say a second time
- Plan who you want to interact with in social settings and suggest a quieter place where you could carry on a conversation
- Come earlier to lectures or group events so that you can find seating close to the front where you can get a good view of the speaker. In some cases, you may be able to contact the organizers of an event and ask them to reserve seating
- Learn speech reading skills. Some organizations run classes in lipreading
Hard of hearing people are often frustrated because they miss words and have difficulty trying to follow conversations. They also become frustrated when people do not accommodate their hearing loss by not making the effort to speak clearly or refusing to repeat what they have said .
People with hearing loss require a high level of focus in order to be able to catch sounds, read lips, decipher gestures, and watch body language to piece together conversations.
According to Hearinglikeme.com, a person makes approximately 13 to 15 movements per sound when they speak. They also say that trying to discern speech is like try to read “letters printed on falling snowflakes.” Also, letters that sound similar also look alike on the lips when spoken such as b, m, and p.
Tips for hearing people
The following suggestions can help hearing and hard of hearing people communicate effectively with each other.
Manage the environment: Reduce or eliminate distractions and noise in the environment such as radios, music playing, or television. Take a second look around the room. Are there noisy machines there that you tend to filter out? The quieter, the better.
Also make sure that there is no bright light behind you that might be distracting for the hard of hearing person, such as sunshine streaming through a window. Good lighting, on the other hand, can help the hard of hearing person to see you clearly.
Let the hard of hearing person choose where he wants to sit or stand. The hard of hearing person knows the best whay to maximize hir ability to follow conversations in the room.
Sometimes special occasions such as holiday celebrations and family dinners can be abuzz with loud conversations and background noises. A hard of hearing person will struggle to follow conversations in these situations. Ask those attending to speak one at a time. This helps the hard of hearing person to focus on whoever is speaking and lipread, if needed
Get the person’s attention before talking. A hard of hearing person may be startled if someome just starts a conversation, so it is best to get their attention first. Some acceptable attention grabbers are lightly touching a person’s arm or shoulder or waving a hand. Deaf people also use attention-getting behaviors such as stomping their feet to cause vibrations, or turning a light switch off and on.
Ask the person for her full attention. Ask her to stop whatever she are doing. It is hard to carry on a conversation with someone who is cleaning or checking her email on a computer.
Resist the temptation to lean in towards their ear. Leaning in may make the hard of hearing person uncomfortable, self-conscious, and violate his personal space. Stand a normal distance away. If the person wears hearing aids, the optimum sound reception spot is 3 to 6 feet away from the listener.
Face the person when you are talking. Many hard of hearing people use lipreading to fill in the gaps in conversations. Look directly at them and maintain eye contact. Use facial expression and gestures to clarify your meaning.
Explain the topic that you will be discussing if you are opening the dialogue. This helps the listener to fill in the gaps he may not catch. Let him know when you transition to a new topic. Also be open to allowing the hard of hearing person to initiate the conversation.
Speak at a normal pace. Slow down if you tend to talk quickly. Keep in mind that a person with hearing loss needs intense concentration to follow a conversation and lipread. This process is exhausting.
Don’t shout. Instead, speak clearly in a normal voice and with a normal expression on your face. Avoid dropping the volume of your voice at the end of your sentences. Shouting may cause the shape of your mouth to become distorted, making it more difficult to read. The listener may misinterpret the increased volume as anger.
Pet Peeves of people with hearing loss
Hard of hearing people don’t like it when people:
- Think that that hearing loss is equal to loss of intelligence
- Assume that because the person can hear that their voices that words will automatically be understood - hearing loss or hearing aids may distort the way words are heard
- Take for granted that the hard of hearing person can follow a casual conversation
- Are impatient and won’t take the time to repeat things or say things such as “never mind.” This response makes the listener feel devalued
Don’t repeat yourself. Determine if the person has understood you. When in doubt, rephrase what was said with more context. Don’t stop trying. The hard of hearing person will be curious and become frustrated if you shrug and tell them it “wasn’t important” or say "it's not important." The person may find it helpful if you write down a few words or phrases.
Don't cover your mouth so that the person can see your lips. People with moustaches or beards are harder to lipread. Don’t have anything in your mouth while speaking.
Be patient. The conversation will take longer than a normal chat.
Have a sense of humor: Carrying on a conversation can be very intense for everyone. Don’t be afraid to chuckle now and then or to laugh at your mistakes.