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Communication Strategies for People with Hearing Loss

Communication is an essential aspect to everyday life. Unfortunately, hearing loss can have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to communicate. Hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other assistive devices can provide help in certain listening situations, but difficulties can still exist. Communication strategies, along with consistent use of amplification, can be utilized for greater ease of understanding and fewer communication breakdowns. Both the speaker and listener in a conversation can contribute to better understanding for the hearing impaired listener.  Below are a few strategies that can help with effective communication:

1.) Face the speaker

Seeing the speaker’s face and being able to read facial cues can significantly improve speech understanding. Even if you don’t think you can lip read, everyone uses visual cues to enhance their auditory signal. If someone is speaking to you from another room, ask them to please come into the same room and ask their question again. When attending a lecture, sit close to the speaker so you are able to see their face. Remind your communication partner to get your attention before asking a question or beginning a conversation.

2.) Minimize background noise (when possible)

Try to eliminate or minimize background noise when having a conversation. This means turning off the television or extraneous noise sources when communicating. You can also try to move to a quiet space away from the noise source. When going to a restaurant, ask for a table away from the kitchen, server stations, or large parties.

3.) Identify the things in your listening environment you can or cannot change

There are many things in our listening environment that affect the way we hear or understand. These factors range from characteristics about the speaker, to characteristics about the environment, to characteristics of us, as listeners. For example, in our listening environment, we may not be able to change the lighting or acoustics of a room, but we may be able to change our seating or angle of vision. Below is a list of factors that affect understanding. In any given situation, identify the things that may improve your ability to listen, and act towards changing these factors that can be controlled or improved.

4.) Advocate for yourself

The ability to ask for the changes you need to hear better is something that comes more naturally to some than others. Asking a person to speak more slowly or more clearly can be helpful. It may also involve asking for a table in a private room at a restaurant, or asking to switch seats with someone when seeing a show. Many times, your communication partner wants to help you hear them better, but they don’t know what they can do to make it easier.

5.) Make a plan

If you know you are going out to eat at a particularly busy restaurant, plan your meal time accordingly. Try to eat during an off time so there is less competing background noise. Call ahead of time to reserve a more private room that may help control background noise. Arrive early for your meal so you can pick the best spot for understanding. Sit away from sources of noise, like the kitchen area or music speaker.

6.) Utilize repair strategies

Communication breakdowns can happen in any conversation. Repair strategies can be utilized to minimize communication breakdowns and continue with the conversation seamlessly. The most common response when a message is not understood is to say, “What?” The problem with saying, “What?” is that it does not give the speaker any information about what you missed, or what you need them to do to help you understand better. It may even lead them to repeat the entire message in the exact same way, leading to the same result. Instead of saying, “What?” when you don’t hear what someone said, be specific about what you need that person to do. For example, tell them to “please repeat what [they] said, more slowly.” Or, if you understood one part of the sentence, tell the person the part you understood, but ask for clarification on the part you missed. Another helpful strategy when trying to understand a telephone number or address is to repeat back each number as it is said to avoid a mistake in the middle of the series of numbers. These strategies may help minimize the breakdowns in communication, and reduce the amount of time spent on clarification.

It is most advantageous when both parties within a conversation work together to have a successful and meaningful discussion. This requires understanding and flexibility on the part of the speaker or speakers, but also the willingness of the listener to express his or her needs.

If you or someone you know is having communication difficulties, contact The Hearing Center at JHBI at 904-399-0350 ext 246 or click here to schedule an appointment for a comprehensive hearing evaluation and to meet with an Audiologist to better  discuss your listening needs.