Hearing loss can be difficult to cope with, and communicating with someone who has hearing loss can be an uncomfortable situation. Lisa B. Marshall, aka The Public Speaker, offers tips to help both people.
I recently received an email from a woman named Joan, who shared with me her difficulties in communicating due to a hearing disability. She especially has trouble in crowded rooms. In Joan’s experience, people become uncomfortable when she tells them she is hard of hearing and asks them to repeat themselves. She doesn’t want to make people uncomfortable, and so she turned to me for help.
My view is this:
Some things make people uncomfortable, but you need to say them anyway. After my late husband died, it was very awkward to tell stories of my life, because they all included John. And eventually my conversation partner would want to know who John is: "Oh, is that your husband?"
I tried so many different ways to politely explain: “He's my late husband; I'm a widow; he was my husband; Oh, he was my husband, but he passed …” etc. No matter how it was phrased, the conversation came to a dead stop! I had to make them feel comfortable by saying, "Please, it's OK.... of course, I'm sad that he is gone, but I would not trade my time with him for anything. He made me very happy." The point is I knew they would be uncomfortable, and I did my best to make them feel at ease. But here's the thing—after I shared something so personal, the other person often reciprocated by sharing something personal, too.
Though clearly it's not the same situation, if you tell someone you have a disability—no matter what it is—you are going to make the other person uncomfortable. However, I think the way you ease the discomfort is by being explicit about how you want the person to react or treat the situation. By just saying, “I’m hard of hearing,” you are in a sense saying, “It will be too difficult to communicate with me.” So they back off. Some people might actually want to get past that point with you, but might be afraid to offend you by asking more questions. So they, too, back off.
Just as I had to do regarding talking about John, you will have to do the same. You present the situation, then set them at ease by telling them how you would like to communicate. For instance, you can say, “I have some hearing loss, but I’d love to chat with you. I can understand you very well if you _______.” Now your conversation partners don’t have to ask, and know exactly what to do. Give them clear instructions, like, “I can understand you very well if you face me so I can watch your lips in this noisy room” or “if you use gestures and body language to enhance what you’re saying” or “If you speak a little slowly and enunciate” or “if you repeat yourself when I give you a blank stare.” The last one is meant as humor! Throwing in a little humor and being good-natured about the situation will set them at ease and help you flow naturally into your conversation.
So for me the bottom line is this: Don’t worry about making the person uncomfortable. You can ease them into conversing with you by sharing what you need in a good-natured, upbeat manner, and hopefully your sharing will not only help them understand what to do and make them comfortable, it will open them up to share something personal about themselves. So in a sense, your hearing disability could be a path into more meaningful conversations.
And for those who encounter people with hearing disabilities, I encourage you to make the effort to find out how best to communicate. People with hearing loss experience a great deal of loneliness and isolation, for the very reasons described. If a person shares with you that he or she has hearing trouble, take the time to ask, “How can I best communicate with you?” The person will so appreciate your question, and will be sure to tell you.
This is Lisa B. Marshall, moving you from mediocre to memorable, from information to influence, and from worker to leader! I invite you to read my best-selling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview, listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk, and invest in your professional development via my online courses Powerful Presenter, Expert Presenter, or Influence: Maximize Your Impact.
As always, your success is my business!
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