If you’re navigating hearing loss, you can use several strategies to help improve communication. Recognizing that both the speaker and the listener have equally important roles in effective communication is important. Here are some tips for communicating when you have hearing loss:
- Stand face-to-face when communicating
- Practice lip reading
- Lessen background noises
- Ask people to repeat themselves
- Use pen and paper to communicate through writing
And here are some tips for improving communication with someone who has hearing loss:
- Speak slowly and clearly, and avoid speaking rapidly
- Don’t shout or speak in a loud voice
- Move your hands and use commonly understood hand gestures
- Rephrase instead of repeating the same thing over and over
Keep reading to explore broader strategies to make social settings more comfortable.
Reduce background noise
The sounds that occur around us daily are known as background noise. The sounds may vary in frequency, intensity, and duration. Sometimes, these noises become distracting and can lead to listening fatigue due to the extra effort you put into hearing what others are saying.
If you have hearing loss, background noise can make communication more challenging as the sounds are hard to separate from conversations.
Choosing a quiet location and facing the person you are speaking with are some ways to cope with listening in noisy environments.
Hearing aids often have built-in noise reduction technology, which can further help tune out the background. Noise-canceling headphones can also amplify close sounds while reducing background noise. These headphones can be useful if you do not have noise-canceling hearing aids or do not wear hearing aids at all.
“Other ways that can be helpful are undergoing a formal aural rehabilitation program that trains hearing in the presence of background noise, as well as lip reading,” said Reisman.
Position yourself strategically
Positioning yourself between the speaker and the source of the background noise can help you better process what someone is saying.
Sit across from your conversation partner in restaurants or other settings so you can see their face and mouth clearly. Avoid locations where light is shining in your eyes. Look for areas away from loud music at parties or other entertainment venues. Choose locations with carpeted floors or acoustic ceilings that help reduce ambient noise or sound reverberation—sounds bouncing off surfaces like walls and ceilings—whenever possible.
When attending concerts, choose a seat at least 20 feet from the stage or orchestra pit. You may need to arrive at your destination earlier to find seating for optimal viewing and listening. Restaurant kitchens often have a lot of clatter and conversations between staff. Ask your server to seat you in a spot away from the kitchen.
Talk about your needs with friends and family
Discuss your hearing loss with friends and family, and talk about the ways they can help you to hear them better, like facing you, not speaking from other rooms, and making sure they have your undivided attention when they begin speaking.
Explain that depending on the situation, they may need to speak more loudly or repeat themselves. They may also need to speak more slowly and pronounce their words clearly to help you understand what they’re saying.
If you’re experiencing anxiety or discomfort in social settings due to your hearing loss, discuss this with the people you interact with so they can understand how you’re feeling if you get frustrated. Being open about your needs can allow people to recognize if you are becoming withdrawn and need additional support to participate in conversations and social events.
Make notes of your experiences with challenging social interactions and what methods were successful for you at those times, or brainstorm ideas for overcoming those challenges the next time.
Advocate for yourself
When navigating hearing loss in social settings, communicate your needs or requests to the event planner in advance so you can fully participate in the event. Request assigned seating that will minimize background noise or circular table settings, which make listening easier.
To avoid or ease listening fatigue, tell people ahead of time you may need to step away from time to time to take a listening break.
Ask if background noises like televisions or radios can be turned down or off to help you hear better. Speak up if you’re having trouble hearing someone or cannot keep up with the conversation. It’s important to realize you may need to ask others to repeat themselves or clarify what they have said during conversations. Ask your conversation partners, “Can you please repeat that?”, “Can you please speak more slowly?”, or “Can you explain that in a different way, please?” Recognize that advocating for yourself is part of navigating hearing loss and should not be viewed negatively by yourself or others.
Manage listening fatigue
Moving to a quieter location can help lessen listening fatigue, particularly when you’ve been listening for a long time. Going outside and taking a walk can also be helpful. If you use hearing aids, ask your audiologist if you can adjust any settings to optimize your listening experience. Use handwritten notes, phone text, or email communication when appropriate to give yourself a listening break.