What I Hear

Life with hearing loss

Mastering Difficult Moments

For people with hearing loss, these are an everyday occurrence.

One of the Hot Topics on this web site right now is: Mastering Difficult Moments.

These include rites of passage (sometimes passages that you navigate repeatedly in life) like the job interview, breaking up, firing someone – the big difficult moments in life. “Even the most confident among us suffer shaky hands sometimes,” the subtitle says. “Learn to get through tough challenging conversations with aplomb”.

For people with hearing loss, tough challenging conversations are an everyday occurrence. Difficult moments lurk around every corner. Here are some that have happened to me.

Standing in a crowded aisle in a New York food market. Someone behind me says (apparently) Excuse me! He must have said it two or three times and then -- still getting no response -- gave me a shove into the shelves of tuna salad and cut fruit. I was too surprised and too furious – and too humiliated -- to say anything. But what I should have said was, “A tap on the shoulder will do. I can’t hear you. I have severe hearing loss.”

A colleague at work complains loudly that at a Broadway show she’s just seen had a caption board to one side of the stage. It was so distracting, she complained. Those rare captioned performances (usuallly just one per run) allow those with hearing loss to continue to see Broadway and off Broadway theater. The tickets are treasures. My colleague’s annoyed response is one reason the theaters are so reluctant to provide captioning at more shows. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to draw attention to my own reliance on captioning. And so I missed an opportunity to explain how really valuable these small screens are to many theatergoers. (There are other hearing boosters but they work only for some people; captions work for all.) 

My brother died a few months ago and we had a memorial service for him recently. Many people came up to tell me their memories about Peter, but I didn’t hear any of them. And I wouldn’t have heard them even if they’d repeated them. What I should have said was, “I can’t hear in this noisy environment, but I really want to know what you’re saying. Can you email me?” And then handed them my card. Except that I don’t have a card. I should get one.

The converse is also true. Someone might mention they’ve just come back from a funeral. You probably get the word funeral. But not the rest. Who died, when, how. The only possible response is a neutral expression of condolence. It would be so much better to be able to say something real, something true, but you don’t know where to start.

When I am introduced to someone. I rarely hear the name, even after the second or third repetition, which means I never know who I’m talking to, which means my half of the conversation is a desperate attempt to come up with universally appropriate comments. Again, an explanation and card would help. Maybe even a pen at hand so the person could write down their name. I’m not shy about acknowledging my hearing loss, but even after I’ve done that, I just can’t get much of what’s said to me. So I tend to stay home.

For younger people with hearing loss, the issues also include the delicate negotiation of friendships and dating in high school and college and in their 20’s. “Light banter” isn’t part of the conversational arsenal available to those with hearing loss. Most hearing-impaired people aren’t good with gossip – it goes by too fast. Jokes are impossible. So are sweet nothings – at least the receiving of them. Whispers are almost always beyond the range of those with even mild to moderate hearing loss. Once a relationship is established, the conversational issues change – and are generally more easily dealt with. But those early forays into relationships, with all the nuances and tact and gauging of response that goes into “fitting in,” they are really really hard.

All the big issues -- those discussed elsewhere on this site -- are also complicated by hearing loss. For instance, job interviews and the gray areas of discrimination in the workplace. 

Some of them I’ve written about, like the job interview. It’s easier to be the interviewer (it’s always easier to be in control of the situation) but it is possible for the person with hearing loss to think in advance about how to bring up the issue of hearing loss and make it a positive part of the job interview rather than a stumbling negative.

Firing someone is also probably no harder with hearing loss than without, but being fired is. What did he just say to me? Why am I being laid off? The unexpected and stunning news of being fired also momentarily stuns your ability to think, to respond – and to hear.

Breaking up, like the others, is not that much harder if you’re the instigator. But if you’re the one being broken up with, the jolt of the message jumbles your brain. You scramble about in your mind to make sure you’re really hearing what you think you hear.

Making the most of difficult moments is a daily occurrence for those with hearing loss. It gets easier with practice. But it never gets easy. At least not for me.

But it all goes more smoothly if you acknowledge your hearing loss. Here are some tips about how to get started

 

Katherine Bouton, a former editor at The New York Times, is the author of Shouting Won't Help: Why I—and 50 Million Other Americans—Can't Hear You.

more...

Subscribe to What I Hear

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.