Communication Strategies for Significant Others of Individuals with Hearing Loss
If you, or someone you know, have hearing loss it is likely that you have experienced a communication breakdown. A communication breakdown is when information is misheard or missed completely during a conversation. Over time, breakdowns may cause tension in relationships and reduce communication between partners.
Although hearing loss does impact the clarity and volume of speech, when communication breakdowns occur, the individual who has difficulty hearing should not always take sole responsibility. Partners often unknowingly use bad speaking habits that can damage the integrity of the message being relayed.
Below are some easy strategies for partners to improve communication with an individual who has difficulty hearing.
- Get your partner’s attention before starting to talk. Lightly tap them on the arm or say their name to get their attention. If they don’t know you are talking, they may miss the majority of the message.
- Speak clearly and take longer pauses between words. Be mindful not to over exaggerate your enunciation or slow the rate of speech too drastically, because that will actually make the speech more difficult to understand. Please see my blog about clear speech to learn more.
- Face the person you are speaking. Your partner needs to be able to watch your mouth as your speak, pick up on facial cues, and see hand gestures.
- Do not cover your mouth while speaking. This will muffle the sound and prevent the listener from lip reading.
- Whenever possible, limit background noise in the environment. If you are in a noisy environment, such as a restaurant, request a table in a quieter section whenever possible.
- Be specific to avoid confusion. When talking, try to avoid using ambiguous language that does not help the individual interpret the message.
- If necessary, use shorter and more concise, sentences. Long trains of thought may produce more opportunities for communication breakdowns, especially if your partner is unsure of the context.
- Ask your partner if they need clarification. Occasionally, individuals with hearing loss pretend as though they heard what was said to avoid frustration. If you sense a communication breakdown has occurred, don’t be afraid to make sure your message was heard clearly.
Unfortunately, communication breakdowns can never be fully prevented, even between two normal hearing individuals.
Below is a list of repair strategies that can be used in the event of a communication breakdown.
- Repeat your message verbatim using clear speech if you’re unsure what was missed.
- Repeat one word or phrase that your partner is having difficulty with.
- Rephrase your message using specific wording and better context.
- Simplify what you’re saying by using more concise language.
- Elaborate by adding more descriptive phrases.
- Pair your message with a physical action. For example, point to your watch while you say, “we need to go”.
One final tip: always be empathetic when speaking with your partner. Be patient, understanding, and willing to commit to using communication strategies. You should also be aware of the anxiety and frustration an individual with hearing loss may experience when having a conversation.