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Communicating with someone with a hearing impairment can seem a little daunting, especially if their hearing loss is significant. In this article, we’ll provide communication strategies to use with a hearing impaired person to help avoid confusion and ensure you both have an enjoyable conversation.

Consider the individual

Whether you’re attempting to communicate with a friend, family member or a stranger, each person with a hearing impairment will have their own individual needs. A communication strategy that’s successful with one person may not work with another, so it’s important to be fluid in your communication.

Find out how they like to communicate

How someone likes to communicate will vary by the level of sound they can hear. Rather than making assumptions, it’s important to ask the person you’re communicating with about their preferences. Here are some examples of communication strategies for different levels of hearing impairment:

  • Mild – Some people with a mild hearing impairment may not need you to adjust the way you’re communicating at all. Others may require slight adjustments such as standing a certain distance apart. 
  • Moderate – Someone with a moderate hearing impairment may need you to make adjustments such as slowing your speech or reducing background noise. 
  • Severe – If verbalisation isn’t working successfully, you may need to ask if they are an adept lip reader or if they’re happy to communicate through writing.

Consider the environment

While your body language plays a crucial role when conversing with someone with impaired hearing, the environment can also have a big impact. Here are some environmental communication aids to use with a hearing impaired person to have a more inclusive conversation.

1. Reduce background noise

While most people with hearing impairments have the ability to interpret sound to some degree, background noise is a common challenge faced by people with a hearing impairment. It’s important to have your conversation somewhere with a lower level of ambient noise, so that excess background sounds like the TV or other people talking don’t obscure your message.

2. Positioning and lighting

Your lip movements, facial expressions and body language have the power to change the meaning of a conversation. This means it’s important to be in a room with adequate lighting when communicating with a hearing impaired person. Make sure you’re facing each other and are on the same level (sitting or standing) to ensure it’s easy for them to see your face.  

If you’re meeting in a public place, you may want to consider the lighting and space that will be available ahead of time. Our blog five tips on dining out with hearing loss provides more information about this. 

Body language

Not all communication is verbal, and whether you’re hearing impaired or have perfect hearing, a lot of what we express to one another is with our bodies and facial expressions. Good body language is a great communication strategy to use with hearing impaired friends or family. Here are some body language tips to keep in mind when talking to a person with impaired hearing.

1. Use visual cues

Visual clues are a helpful communication aid to use with hearing impaired people. These can include:

  • Gestures – Using body language like nodding or pointing at objects can help to supplement verbal communication. 
  • Written notes – Writing down messages or key points can be particularly helpful when you want to communicate complex information. 
  • Lip-Reading – Those with moderate to severe hearing impairment may rely on lip reading, so it’s important to enunciate your words, and make sure the other person can see your face.
  • Sign language – If someone you know uses sign language, taking the time to learn Auslan will allow you to communicate more effectively.

2. Maintain eye contact

Besides showing that you’re engaged and respectful of the person you’re speaking with, maintaining eye contact throughout your conversation can be helpful for many reasons. Since your eyes play a large role in making facial expressions, maintaining eye contact can help convey emotions and tone. It also helps the person with a hearing impairment identify who is speaking to them. 

It’s important to remember too that body language varies from culture to culture, with some cultures considering excess eye contact, pointing or even the direction of your feet as signals of politeness or rudeness. When considering how to communicate with a person who is hearing impaired, ensure you are being culturally sensitive in your body language, especially if it’s someone you don’t know well.

Clear and direct communication

When communicating with a loved one who has a hearing impairment, try to be direct and to the point. Here are some tips for communicating with a hearing impaired person, to avoid a communication breakdown:

1. Speak clearly and slowly

If the person you’re speaking to prefers that you slow your speech, enunciating your words can make it easier for them to understand you. This is particularly helpful if they are trying to differentiate between similar sounds as well as providing time for them to process visual cues. Speaking clearly and slowly is a particularly important communication strategy for hearing impaired people who rely on lip reading. 

2. Repeat or rephrase

If the listener simply misses a word or misinterprets a phrase, it may help to repeat yourself. However, if a communication breakdown occurs, try rephrasing rather than simply repeating. Using different words or explanations might make your message easier to understand. 

3. Limit topic changes.

To avoid confusion and misunderstandings, don’t take the conversation off in different directions. Instead, stick to one conversational thread until you’ve both made your point before moving on. Cognitive load can be a challenge faced by people with a hearing impairment, so this will give the listener time to process information.

4. Avoid shouting

Although raising the volume of your voice may help in some situations, you should always avoid shouting. Two key reasons for this include: 

  • It distorts sounds – Shouting can distort speech sounds and actually make it harder for those with a hearing impairment to understand what you’re saying.
  • It can cause discomfort – Not only can shouting be physically painful for those with hearing impairments, it can also make them feel uncomfortable and humiliated. 

5. Be patient

It can take time and practice to learn how to effectively communicate with a hearing impaired person. Being patient is important for many reasons, including: 

  • It shows respect and builds trust – The person you’re speaking to is more likely to trust you if you’re respectful and show that you’re willing to accommodate their communication needs.
  • It allows for better understanding – Being patient allows you to slow down the conversation, rephrase anything that’s misinterpreted and listen intently. It gives both people the opportunity to express themselves more accurately and have deeper conversations. 
  • It reduces stress – Communication difficulties can lead to frustration and this can become stressful for the person with a hearing impairment. Being patient will prevent conflicts and make the conversation more comfortable for both parties. 

Don’t forget that communication is a two way street, and your conversational partner will be doing their best to both understand you and convey what they’re trying to say. If you’re happy to attempt a range of different communication strategies, and be a little patient, you will have meaningful and enjoyable interactions with your family members and friends regardless of their level of hearing ability.

Get tested for hearing loss

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While serious hearing loss is inevitable in some cases, early intervention can make a huge difference. Early detection and treatment of hearing loss can prevent further deterioration which, left untreated, may lead to serious impairment.

If you or your loved one are experiencing a sudden loss in hearing or a rapid decline in hearing ability, it’s important to have your hearing tested. You can use our free online hearing test to take the first step in understanding what state your hearing is in. For a more thorough examination of your hearing, visit a Bay Audio audiologist in person for a hearing test. Make your booking enquiry today.

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