Talking to someone who is hard of hearing can be tricky on a number of levels. You want to communicate with them clearly, but you don’t want them to feel embarrassed or patronized. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can talk to someone suffering from hearing loss that is effective and doesn’t make the other person feel they are handicapped. Here are some suggestions.
Reduce or Eliminate Background Noise
Try to reduce any background noise as much as possible, such as radio, TV, crowds, lots of people talking all at once, and so on. If you conduct meetings at work and suspect someone may be hard of hearing, try to avoid noisy projector sounds when giving presentations, for example. If you go to a restaurant with a loved one who seems to be having a hearing issue, try to find a quiet corner away from the crowd.
Keep Your Hands Away from Your Face
Most of us lip read and pick up cues about what is being said a great deal more than we realize. For those with hearing loss, lip reading and seeing your facial expressions can help them see the way you form letters like “p”, “b” and “d” that can often be difficult to distinguish when people are hard of hearing.
Maintain Eye Contact
Be sure to face the person with hearing trouble and maintain eye contact. This also provides vital clues and a meaningful connection so the person does not get the frustrated feeling as though they are missing out.
Don’t Shout, Speak Naturally
When talking to someone with hearing loss, don’t shout or exaggerate your speech. Try to be as natural as possible. If you know you mumble a bit, slow down slightly. Pause as needed so they can process what you have said, and also reply if they wish.
Use Hand Gestures Sparingly
Hand gestures can help people hard of hearing follow along with what you are saying. For example, if you have a to-do list in the office with five things on it, count them off on your fingers as you mention them one by one. But don’t start to look like a windmill when you talk.
Keep Your Sentences Short and Uncomplicated
Those with hearing loss will get lost in long-winded sentences. If they ask you to repeat yourself, find a simpler way of expressing what you need to.
Be in a Well-Lit Place
Candlelight may be romantic, but it makes it really hard for people with hearing a loss to follow the conversation. Don’t sit where there will be any bright light behind you that would cast you in shadow and dazzle their eyes so they can’t see you clearly.
Signal That You Are Going to Start to Speak
If you are in a meeting, signal it is about to start. Keep yourself front and center so you don’t give anyone side views that might cause difficulty in reading your lips. Never turn your back to your audience while speaking. If you have to write on a whiteboard, write first, then explain it.
Discuss the Issue and Ask What Works Best for Them
Ask the person who is hard of hearing how you can work together to make sure your conversations are successful. It will be difficult for them to adapt at first, but gradually they will develop strategies that work for them, such as tilting their head to listen with their “better ear,” or having them sit on that side of you.
Hearing loss is never easy for the other person. Even if they get hearing aids, they are not perfect; the person can still experience difficulty with certain ranges of sounds such as the high frequencies, and with background noise. Be patient, and you should both be able to get your message across.