by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
One lady vented,
My complaint in dealing with folks on the phone who, when I tell them I’m hard of hearing, they think that talking louder is what is needed.
Case in point; yesterday I had to deal with a local company. After playing the waiting game, I told the lady who answered my call that I was hard of hearing. She started screaming, or so it seemed at me, over the phone. I told her she didn’t have to scream and her reply was, “well you told me you were hard of hearing”. If I could have gone through the phone, I’m sure I would have tried to throttle her. I said, “Yes, but if you talk normally I have an apparatus that will take care of the volume. Please just speak slower.
How do we ever get folks to realize it is not increased volume we need. I need them to speak clearly and slowly. I am going to write to this company and inform them they need to train their phone folks. This is absolutely maddening to me to deal with folks who just don’t get it.
Another lady explained,
It can go the other way too, where the person starts speaking so slowly and enunciating every syllable to make it seem like they’re talking to a dunce on the other end.
These kinds of miscommunications and frustrations are common among hard of hearing people. It need not be. Both of these ladies are missing the boat because they are leaving out one critical piece of information that would make all the difference.
Whenever you tell a person you are hard of hearing, in the same breath you need to tell them the one or two things you need them to do at that point so you can hear and understand them.
When you don’t do this—you get the above kind of responses. The truth is, people are not mind readers. They don’t know what kind of hearing loss you have, so they don’t have a clue how to respond appropriately.
For example, if I tell someone I am hard of hearing, I need them to speak up (maybe even shout) because I can’t hear them otherwise since I have the rare reverse-slope hearing loss and thus don’t hear the lower frequencies well at all.
However, if you have the typical ski-slope loss, then the last thing you want them to do is shout because you are already hearing these lower frequency sounds quite well.
Here’s the problem. What I need them to do and what you might need them to do is exactly opposite—and that confuses people. They don’t know the correct response. That is why you need to tell them exactly what you need them to do at that point.
At the same time, don’t overload them with a bunch of instructions—just pick the one or two things that you know will make the greatest difference for that conversation. Next time you meet that person, if the circumstances are the same, maybe they will remember what you need. However, here’s the kicker—if you meet them under different circumstances, maybe you’ll need them to do something entirely different.
That is why, as soon as your realize you are going to have communication difficulties, it is up to you to tell people that you have problems hearing and what you need them to do at that point.
Here are some of the things you might ask them to do at any given point.
- Speak a bit louder (or a lot louder).
- Speak slower.
- Speak clearly. (It’s usually better to ask the person to speak slower rather than speak clearer because when they speak
slower, they almost always speak clearer at the same time.)
- Write down the key words.
- Move over here where it is quieter.
- Face me so I can speechread you.
- Stand so the light is on your face, not behind you.
- Repeat what you just said.
- Rephrase what you just said (if you see that repeating the same words isn’t working).
- Come closer—or better yet, you move closer to them if you can—but if they are in an “employees only” area, then they need to move closer to you.
When you are proactive and tell people how to best communicate with you, you will find that your communications go be much less frustrating. In fact, you may find that you actually enjoy chatting with them!
To learn more tips for successfully communicating with hard of hearing people, check out our book, “Talking with Hard of Hearing People—Here’s How to Do It Right!“