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Have Better Conversations With Someone With Hearing Loss

Using communication best practices is critical.

Those of us with hearing loss know how hard it can sometimes be to converse comfortably with our friends and family. We get tired, frustrated and sometimes just tune out. But it is hard on those that love us as well. They don’t like to see us struggle or be unhappy, and they can get annoyed that we don’t understand what they are saying.

This post is for them. Share these tips with your friends and family and enjoy better conversations.

Tim Gouw/Unsplash
Source: Tim Gouw/Unsplash


The first step in having better conversations is to understand how people with hearing loss actually hear. The best way I know to explain it is as a game board from Wheel of Fortune. Some of the letters are filled in, others are blank. The contestant (or listener in this case) is trying to make sense of the assorted and incomplete sounds he or she is hearing and turn these sounds into a word or phrase that makes sense in the context of the conversation.

It is also useful to point out that hearing aids don’t work like glasses. Glasses transform an image that is blurry and distorted into something crisp and clear. Most of the time, when you wear glasses, you can see just like someone with typical vision.

With hearing aids, this is not the case. Hearing aids amplify sounds, but this just makes them louder, not crisper or clearer, making it difficult to understand speech. Hearing aids also have a tough time differentiating among sounds so that the background noise (i.e., the hum of the refrigerator or the air conditioner) is amplified in addition to the more important sounds of the conversation. This can actually make it harder to hear in certain situations.


With that as background, here are some tips for having more satisfying conversations with someone who has hearing loss. Please share your tips and ideas in the comments.

Provide Context Before and When Speaking: Context makes it easier to fill in the blank spaces of the words on the Wheel of Fortune game board. If all you hear is “__oot,” knowing if the conversation is about owls (hoot) or a robbery (loot) or music (flute) is a big help.

Get Their Attention Before Speaking: Hearing takes concentration for those with hearing loss, so make sure they are paying attention. Talking to them before they are ready will have them playing catch-up and make it harder for them to understand the context of the conversation.

Make Sure They Can See Your Lips: Lip-reading is helpful in filling in the blanks of what is not heard. I always tell people, "I can’t hear you if I can’t see you." Don’t cover your mouth with your hands and make sure that you are well-lit.

Enunciate Clearly and Speak at a Steady Rate: Remember that volume is only part of the problem. Clarity of the sounds is key. Speak your words clearly and maintain a regular pace of speech. Rapid speech is very difficult to follow since brain processing time is condensed, while slower than typical speech will look weird on the mouth and make lip-reading less useful.

Be Aware of The Surroundings: Background noise is a problem, so try to avoid it if you can. Turn off the A/C or at least turn the fan down to low. Don’t play music in the background. Pick a quiet restaurant and request a corner booth. A noiseless and well-lit spot works best.

Take Turns Speaking: If there are multiple people in the conversation, it is important that only one person speak at a time and that each speaker faces the person who has trouble hearing.

Be Prepared to Repeat or Rephrase: Try not to get frustrated, but simply repeat what you have said when asked. If the person does not understand the second time, try rephrasing your thought using different words that might be easier for him or her to hear. Or spell a word that is giving a particularly hard time. Often knowing the first few letters of a word can help to connect the dots.

Keep Your Sense of Humor: It can be frustrating, but remember the goal is to connect with one another, so why not laugh at the misunderstandings. It is better than the alternative.

Copyright: Shari Eberts/ Reprinted with permission.

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