Now that summer vacations are coming to an end, it’s time to trade the flip flops for loafers and buckle back down in the office. If you have hearing loss, however, and especially if you recently discovered your hearing impairment, you might need to give your coworkers and your boss a few tips on how to best communicate with you. If you’ve recently gone through a job change, there’s a good chance your new colleagues have not been exposed to hearing loss before. Once you make someone aware of your condition, you can both successfully work around it.
Let your fellow office members know some good ways to communicate with you in person. For starters, those with hearing loss tend to do better in person than over the phone, so when it’s possible, ask they come to your office instead of dialing your extension. That way, you can use context clues like lip reading, facial expressions and body language as an aid in conversation.
Additionally, ask them to walk your line of sight if you aren’t responding to their attempts to get your attention. It’s less startling to see someone walk up to you than it is to be tapped on the back. In meetings and boardrooms, ask that they try not to speak when facing away from you, as in when they’re writing out bullet points on the dry-erase board. Talking while a person’s back is turned to you redirects the person’s speech at the wall, making it difficult to understand even if you’re sitting close to the speaker.
Open-layout cubicles are not always conducive to people with hearing loss, because there is a lot of activity going on that can distract you from your work. Trying to have a phone conversation the same time as your coworker in the cubicle next to you is difficult enough with normal hearing. Ask to be put in a private office with a door, if available. This way you can shut out the noise and focus on your work, making you a more efficient and productive employee.
Explain to your coworkers how any of your assistive devices wo ark, so they understand the best means of communicating with you. While hearing aids help, people need to learn how to incorporate them into the activity and conversation. Let your coworkers know that while your hearing aid increases your hearing ability, you still need some inclusion.
Ask your boss if there any assistive devices your office can provide, such as a Teletype phone, a headset, a video relay service, or a flashing notification system for your desk phone or the fire alarm. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) even provides for sign language interpreters in severe cases.
Last but not least, ask for patience from your colleagues. Tell them that you know working with a person with hearing loss can be frustrating, but also let them know how stressful it can be for you as well. By taking some small steps to improve communication, coworkers can lighten the office atmosphere and create a happy working relationship.
Hearing loss can require a little extra work, but it shouldn’t decrease your productivity or place any additional stress on your day. Most inconveniences stem from a misunderstanding, so open communication is key for effective relationships. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to speak clearly, or to look at you while they’re talking. Small changes to your work environment can keep the office running smoothly.