by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady wrote,
My friend asked me why I didn’t tell her I hadn’t heard her. I said, “If I didn’t hear, how do I know to ask?” I liked the “duh” look on her face.
That’s sort of my experience. When I was in school, the only accommodation I had was to sit at the front of the classroom. Each year on the first day of school, typically I’d go to the teacher and let him/her know that I was hard of hearing. Invariably, the teacher would say, “If you miss something in class, come and see me after class or after school and I’ll tell you.” As it happened I’d miss something and go to the teacher after class.
Me: “Teacher, I missed something in class today.”
Teacher: “What did you miss?”
Me: “How do I know? That’s why I’m here!”
Another lady explained, “Now that I really can’t hear, my husband and I are having some major communication issues. I’ve always coped so well that I’ve made it easy for my family to not think about my hearing loss, but I’m to the point where it’s painfully evident to them how much I don’t hear. One of the biggest things I keep telling my husband is that, like it or not, I can’t know when I’ve misheard you or didn’t hear something you said, so that puts the responsibility on you for making sure that I clearly understand what you want me to know. It’s not fair, but it’s not my fault that I can’t hear. I think I heard one thing, but it was something else. If I’m not sure, then I ask for a repeat, but many times I think I heard it right, but didn’t, so how am I supposed to know?”
That is one of the major problems with being hard of hearing—all the miscommunications and misunderstandings between spouses.
There are actually five possibilities how this works out in practice.
1. You know you heard correctly (and you did).
2. You’re not sure you heard correctly (so you ask for a repeat to be sure).
3. You know you didn’t hear correctly (or didn’t hear much at all), so you have to ask for repeat.
4. You know you heard correctly, but in actual fact, you got it wrong. In this case, you won’t ask for clarification because you know you got it right. (That’s what makes this case so insidious—and where a lot of problems arise.)
5. You didn’t hear anything, so you don’t even know someone was asking you a question, or telling you something. (That is why it is so important to acknowledge each part of a communication by saying “uh huh” or “got it”, or “right” or just nodding your head.)
There is basically only one way around the above communication problems. It’s simply this. You, as the hard-of-hearing person, have to repeat back essentially every instruction or point you hear. Then, it is up to the hearing person to make sure that you have included every essential point.
If you have missed something, it is up to the hearing person to repeat it again (and again) until you can repeat back all the essential points.
Only what a hard-of-hearing person can repeat back is what the hard-of-hearing person truly heard and understood.
The key here is that the hearing person has to make sure you have included every essential point and not just assume that you already know some of the background. Here is an example from my days as a hard-of-hearing volunteer fire fighter.
Back then, I lived on the Canadian prairies, and during the spring seeding time and fall harvest time, we often had field fires.
The prairie roads where I lived were laid out in a grid pattern. There was an east-west road every 2 miles and a north-south road every mile. We had a “zero” mile-point at 6th avenue E and 2nd street N from which we would always take the mileage. Thus, for example, we’d say the fire is 4 miles north and 3 miles west. Everyone knew that the mileage was taken from this particular point.
One day we had a field fire and the chief assigned me to drive the water truck.
I asked, “Where’s the fire?” The chief said, “4 miles south and 2 miles east”. The chief, the deputy chief and the captain were standing right there. I repeated back “4 miles south and 2 miles east”. All three nodded their heads.
Then, because our water truck was an old lumbering cow, I asked for permission to roll before the other trucks so I wouldn’t end up too far behind the faster pumper trucks. I wasn’t even out to the main highway before the other trucks had all zipped past me and and rapidly disappeared into the distance.
When I got to the point 4 miles south and 2 miles east, to my chagrin, there were no fire trucks in sight, and to make matters worse, I couldn’t see any signs of fire or smoke anywhere either. Obviously, I was in the wrong place—but where was I supposed to be? I was exactly where I was supposed to be—4 miles south and 2 miles east.
I got on the radio, but all I could hear was a bit of static coming back at me. The trucks were down in a coulee and the radio signals weren’t getting out.
I had the water they needed. I just had to find out where the fire really was. What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t hear them on the radio, and I couldn’t see any signs of smoke or the trucks. I looked around and behind me about a mile back was a little rise. I figured I could make radio contact with them from the top of the rise. I headed for the rise and gave them a shout on the radio. This time, I could hear them. The chief asked, “Where are you?” I said, “I’m right here where I’m supposed to be—4 miles south the 2 miles east. Where are you?”
That’s when I found out that back at the hall, there was one critical piece of information that I had not heard. For some reason on this fire, they had taken the starting point, not from the usual spot, but from a point on the main highway four miles south of town. The guys with normal hearing heard that, just not me. Thus, when I asked, “Where’s the fire?” they assumed I knew they were taking the directions from a different starting point. As a result, I ended up exactly 4 miles north of the fire.
This is a perfect example of why it is so important for hearing people not to assume anything when talking with hard-of-hearing people. Again I emphasize, “Only what a hard-of-hearing person can repeat back is what they heard and understood.”
Consequently, you and your husband need to discuss these strategies between the two of you. It will make your communications ever so much better—but it will take a lot of effort on your part—I mean, why should you repeat back things you know you heard correctly? (Refer to point 4 above whenever you think this is a waste of time.)
My wife and I have communications mix-ups too. I’ll repeat back what I know I heard (the first part of the sentence) and want her to repeat just the last part I missed—but she insists on starting from the beginning. This drives me nuts and I tell her to “Just repeat what I missed!”. Then I find out that she can’t just repeat the part I missed because I got the first part wrong too!