If you live with hearing loss, there are things you can do to communicate better with others. In addition to using hearing technology and assistive listening devices, making some lifestyle changes can improve your ability to hear. Here are a few tips that may help.
Communication tactics for better hearing
Position, position, position
By looking at people directly, you can pick up cues from their expressions and the movement of their mouths. Position yourself at the eye level of the person speaking, at a distance of three to five feet. If one ear is better than the other, sit with your better ear toward the speaker. Make sure the speaker’s face is well lit and that you still have a good view of the speaker’s face as facial expressions add helpful context. Move away if the light is in your eyes or casting a shadow on the speaker. Background noise makes conversation more difficult, so turn off the television or radio, close windows or doors facing noisy areas, and move away from other noise sources. You might also consider enhancing the acoustics of a room where you often have conversations. This could involve installing carpeting, draperies, padded furniture or acoustic ceiling tiles.
Pay attention to visual cues
You can gain a lot of information simply through observing the person speaking - their lip movements, facial expressions, gestures and body language. Wear your glasses if needed. When people are talking to you, look at their lips, not their eyes. Looking at the speaker not only helps you understand what they are saying, it is also good manners. You can also take advantage of aural rehabilitation training which helps you ‘read’ other people’s speech more effectively and with less concentration.
Master the power of the pause
Don’t feel you always need to talk to fill in silences. If you are in a group situation, pausing for a moment can give you time to understand what has been said and catch up on the conversation. If you are just speaking to one person, even a short pause will let you better process what you have heard. Also, take a break from conversation when you need to. Listening takes a lot of energy and concentration and is always harder if you are sick or fatigued.
Ask specific questions
If you’ve missed something in a conversation, it is much better to ask specific questions about what you missed than to pretend to understand. For instance, you could say “I didn’t catch the last bit of that sentence” or use the information you did get to phrase your question, i.e. “What time are we meeting?” or “What did you say about the election?” This reduces frustration on both sides and keeps the conversation flowing smoothly. You can also ask the speaker to “say that in a different way” so the words you couldn’t understand can be replaced with words that may be easier to hear. Another tactic might be to ask the speaker to spell the word you are having difficulty understanding.
Be honest and assertive
Don’t hesitate to tell people you have a hearing loss and the practical ways they can make communication easier. Tell them if you need them to stand closer, speak more slowly, keep their hand away from their mouth or if you need to move away from background noise. Many people are unsure how they should to talk to someone with a hearing loss. Reassure them that clear, natural speech is easiest for you to understand and they don’t need to shout. Also, let them know that it helps to have a clear view of their face so you can read their speech and facial expressions.
Tune into the topic
It is much easier to follow a conversation when you know what topic is being discussed. Ask friends or family members to restate the topic that is being discussed and let you know when it changes.
Use assistive listening devices
Take advantage of the many assistive listening devices which are designed to help you hear better in specific situations― both in your home and in public places. Some are simple attachments to aid communication on the telephone, help you listen to the television or radio, and even hear the doorbell. When attending lectures, request that speakers use microphones or FM systems. Assistive listening devices can be used alone or with hearing devices to boost their benefits.
Plan for public listening environments
Consider your hearing needs when planning to go out to eat, see a show or attend a lecture or meeting. Check a restaurant’s noise rating before reserving a table and try to go at times when it is less busy. Ask for a quiet table against a wall or in a quiet corner, or a booth if available. If you’re going to a play, concert, lecture or meeting, ask for an assistive listening device and arrive early to secure a seat close to the sound. If attending a meeting, ask the chairperson to ensure that only one person talks at a time and ask for a copy of the agenda so you know what will be discussed next.
Keep it realistic
Even people with perfect hearing don’t catch everything, so don’t worry or get discouraged if you miss a few words. Focus on the idea a person is expressing rather than exhausting yourself trying to understand every word. It’s also important to have realistic expectations and recognize that in certain environments listening will require more effort and active hearing strategies.
Learn to laugh at yourself
Being able to laugh when you make mistakes in conversation is far more helpful than putting yourself down and withdrawing. Feeling tense and negative robs you of the energy and concentration you need to listen and speech read, and prevents you from enjoying communication. Everyone misses parts of conversations sometimes. By seeing the funny side of miscommunications, you can stay connected to the person you are talking to and present in the conversation.
Write it down and repeat it back
If the details are important, such as with directions or medical instructions, get them in writing to avoid confusion. If you need to take down information over the phone, repeat it back to the speaker to make sure you heard and wrote it down correctly.
Speak and stand how you want others to
People tend to adjust their speech and posture to match the person they are talking to. Hold yourself tall, look people in the eye, and speak in a clear and confident voice. This may encourage others do the same. If you find it hard to monitor your voice level, ask your conversation partner if your volume and pace is okay. This will also make them naturally more aware of how clearly and slowly they are speaking.
Stay informed and do your homework
Being tuned into what is happening around you can help your listening in a number of different ways. Knowing the big issues in world affairs, your local community and the lives of your friends will make it much easier to join and follow a range of conversations. Similarly, if you are going to see a movie or play, reading the reviews beforehand will allow you to follow the plot more easily.
The information on this website is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, prescribe treatment, or replace medical advice. Please consult a hearing healthcare professional to diagnose or treat a hearing or health problem.