Communication tips for talking to people with hearing loss
Contributed by Joy Victory, managing editor, Healthy Hearing Last updated 2020-11-16T00:00:00-06:00
Even without the added issue of hearing loss, conversations require a lot of focus, energy and patience. For people with hearing loss or other hearing impairments, a noisy environment or friends who speak too quickly can make communication extra challenging.
Below are some things that you can do to help facilitate communication when someone has hearing loss, whether that person is you—or a loved one, friend, or coworker.
Some environments are much easier for communication for people who are hearing impaired. Here are some things you can do to ensure the environment is perfect for communication:
Make sure the room has enough lighting. People with hearing loss often rely upon lip reading, facial expressions, speech reading, body language and gestures to supplement their remaining hearing and improve communication.
Pick a place that has minimum background noise. Though our ears and brain are able to filter out background noise in most situations, people with hearing loss often have a difficult time hearing over excessive noise. Keep in mind that small rooms with no carpeting or curtains tend to have poor acoustics and can distort voices.
Make it easy to see everyone's faces. If you will be in a group setting, choose a location—or if you're at a restaurant, a round table —where the person with hearing loss will have visual access to everyone's faces to facilitate better communication.
Here are a few examples of using the above tips to pick an appropriate environment for communication:
If you're planning a dinner out, pick a restaurant that you know has ample lighting, does not play loud music and has decent acoustics. Choose a restaurant that you have been to before, where you know the noise levels do not get too loud. Another good tactic is to select an off-time: Rather than having dinner at 7 p.m. on Friday or Saturday night—the busiest dinner hours—opt instead for a late lunch or early dinner, between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. when restaurants are likely to be the least busy.
During a group gathering at your home, if you'd like to have a conversation with a friend or family member with hearing loss, invite him or her to speak in a different, quieter room. Turn off the TV and any other sources of noise.
Hard of hearing communication tips
Here are some do's and don'ts you can keep in mind to help facilitate better conversations and include someone with hearing loss:
Make sure you don't cover your mouth. Don't talk through a yawn or while chewing gum. (For deaf and hard of hearing people who use American Sign Language and lip reading, this is especially important.)
Don't speak from another room or when your back is turned to the person. Don't shout in any situation.
Sit or stand close to the person with hearing loss, but not so close that he or she can't easily switch focus between maintaining eye contact and speech reading.
If the person with hearing loss hears better in one ear, take note of that and try to speak more toward their right or left side.
Before starting a conversation, say the person's name so you can get his or her attention. Wave or gently tap them if they don't hear you.
When giving specific information, like an address or time for a meeting, write the important information down or ask the person to repeat the specifics to you so you can make sure they got them right.
Pay attention to the listener's cues. People with hearing loss sometimes feel embarrassed or get tired of asking others to repeat themselves or clarify. If the person looks a bit puzzled, find a tactful way to ask if he or she understood you.
In group settings, make sure to avoid speaking over each other.
Don't talk about a person with hearing loss as if she or he isn't there. Instead, talk directly to that person and do your best to use the above and below tactics.
How hearing loss affects communication
Sometimes, there will be a breakdown in communication. Here are some things that you can do to get back on track for successful conversation with your friend, family member or colleague:
Speak at a normal level. Sometimes it's tempting to speak too loudly to someone with hearing loss, but this can distort the words.
Provide the topic of conversation or key word to someone having difficulty understanding, especially if there has been a topic change.
Spell a tricky word. For people with hearing loss, many consonants sound the same, which can trigger misunderstanding. Write it out on paper if necessary.
Use gestures if they might help.
Speak more slowly, but still clearly.
Rephrase what you have said.
Shorten your sentences and use less complex phrasings.
Change environments if the location is giving you problems.
Ask the listener what he or she needs you to do to facilitate better communication in the event of a break down.
Joy Victory has extensive experience editing consumer health information. Her training in particular has focused on how to best communicate evidence-based medical guidelines and clinical trial results to the public. She strives to make health content accurate, accessible and engaging to the public.
Read more about Joy.