Communication with a loved one, friend or a stranger with a hearing impairment can seem a little daunting if their hearing loss is significant, but this doesn’t need to be the case. In order to ensure both you and the person you’re talking to have a successful and enjoyable interaction, there are numerous strategies you can employ to effectively communicate and avoid confusion.
Consider the individual
Whether attempting to communicate with a friend, family member or a stranger, each person with a hearing impairment has their own individual needs. It’s important to consider what level of sound they can hear; hearing impairments can vary greatly from mild to serious, so not everyone with a hearing aid or impairment will need you to adjust the way you’re communicating. For those with a greater level of hearing loss though, it can be important to consider if they are an adept lip reader or if they’re happy to communicate through writing if verbalisation isn’t working successfully. A communication strategy that’s successful with one person may not work with another, so it’s important to be fluid in your communication.
Consider the environment
Most people with hearing impairments have the ability to interpret sound to some degree; this can vary from those with mild hearing impairments, hearing practically everything, to the more seriously impaired whose hearing is very restricted. While hearing device wearers may hear every word you say clearly, background noise can interfere. Because of this, it’s important to try to have your conversation somewhere with a lower level of ambient noise so that excess background sounds don’t obscure your message.
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 strategy to employ when communicating with friends and family members with hearing impairments. Some tips for clear communication include:
- Not shouting or over enunciating your words, instead speaking naturally but clearly
- Maintain eye contact
- Use any tools at your disposal to make your point clear; write down the key points you are trying to convey and indicate directions or objects with your hands
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, so ensure you are being culturally sensitive in your body language when talking to someone you don’t know well.
Clear and direct communication
When communicating with a loved one who has a hearing impairment it’s important to be direct and to the point. Things to remember to help avoid a communication breakdown include:
- Make sure your face is visible. Ensure your face and mouth are well lit and not obscured if your friend or family member relies on these non-verbal cues to interpret what you’re saying
- Limit topic changes. To avoid any confusion 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
- If a communication breakdown does occur, try a different way of communicating what you’re saying. Rephrase rather than simply repeating what you’ve been saying
If you or your loved one are experiencing a sudden loss in hearing, or a rapid decline in hearing ability, it is important to have your hearing tested. 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.
Don’t forget too, 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 with a little patience, you will have meaningful and enjoyable interactions with your family members and friends regardless of their level of hearing ability.