Navigating communication challenges
Research indicates using communication strategies in conjunction with hearing devices can provide significant benefits if you are living with hearing loss (Hickson et al. 2007).
Hearing devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implants can improve your ability to hear speech and sounds. If you are living with a hearing loss you may still face challenges in understanding speech, particularly in noisy environments or when multiple people are talking at once.
It is important for you and your loved ones to be aware of communication strategies that you can use. These can help you to better understand what is being said and participate more fully in conversations. Combining these communication strategies with hearing devices, gives you the best opportunity to maximise speech understanding, especially in a difficult environment with background noise and poor acoustics. Together these can help lead to improve your social and emotional well-being, create better relationships with family and friends, and increase your confidence in social situations (Ferguson et al. 2017).
Communication strategies to help you hear better
Minimise background noise
Try your best to minimise the surrounding noise while having conversations with people by switching off the TV, radio or other controllable noises. Be sure to face the person you are speaking to and position your back to any background noise. Ideally, where possible have the person you are talking to positioned with their back to a quiet surface such as a wall. You can also look for environments with soft furnishings, such as carpets or rugs. Rooms with lots of hard surfaces allow the sounds to bounce around and make hearing more difficult.
Observe Visual Cues
Lip-reading is a skill we all use from time to time as we observe how people’s lips move when they speak, which helps us fill in any missed words. It’s a natural skill that we use unconsciously to aid in comprehension. To assist with lip reading and other visual cues, ensure that you have a clear view of a person’s face when they are speaking. It’s important to look directly at them and ensure the room is well-lit.
If you feel comfortable, it can be helpful to inform those around you about your hearing loss and how they can support you. By raising awareness of your hearing loss, others can make a conscious effort to speak clearly and face you when communicating, which can make a big difference in your ability to understand them. Sharing information about your hearing loss also helps others know how they can best assist you in various situations, whether it’s by using visual aids or finding quieter environments. Open communication and a willingness to work together help create a more inclusive and supportive environment for everyone.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a repeat or rephrase
If you continuously fail to catch a particular word or phrase, consider asking the speaker to rephrase their statement. For example, you can politely ask,
I keep missing the last part about your new job. Could you kindly phrase it differently for me?”
Try to refrain from using generic phrases such as “I can’t hear you” or “What did you say?” when you cannot interpret what has been said. Be specific and ask them to repeat the particular part that you missed. For example,
Sorry, I missed where you said you went last night?”
Communication strategies for when talking to someone with hearing loss
The social and emotional impacts of hearing loss can be far-reaching. It can become very tiring for someone with hearing loss having to concentrate on engaging in conversation. By using these strategies, you can help the person with hearing loss feel included in conversations and avoid feelings of frustration or isolation.
Articulate your words so that you are speaking clearly and naturally. Maintain a speed that is easy to follow, and don’t shout. Shouting can distort your voice and make it hard to understand. If you need to raise your voice, project your voice as you would when speaking to someone on the other side of the room, which usually sounds clearer.
Be open and patient
When talking to someone with hearing loss, being patient and taking the time to communicate clearly and effectively can help prevent miscommunications and misunderstandings. It can be helpful to be open with them and ask if you can do anything to improve their listening situation.
Be aware of your environment
Help to improve the listening situation by minimising background noise and reducing the distance between you and the other person. Get the listener’s attention before talking to them and do not try and have a conversation from another room. If they can see your face, it gives them cues that may help improve speech understanding, and your voice will be louder when speaking directly to them.
Rephrase the sentence
If you are speaking to someone with a hearing loss and they are having trouble understanding you or missing words in your sentence, consider saying the same thing in a different way to help them hear what you are trying to communicate.
Hearing loss doesn’t just make it harder for us to hear things, it also makes it harder for us to feel connected to the people and things around us. This can have a big impact on many different parts of our lives.
Ear Science Institute Australia, Lions Hearing Clinic & Ear Science Implant Clinic are committed to supporting and guiding our clients on their healthy hearing journey with research-based recommendations.
We provide personalised and client-focused care suited to your hearing journey, including understanding the emotional impact of hearing loss.
Ferguson MA, Kitterick PT, Chong LY, Edmondson‐Jones M, Barker F, Hoare DJ. Hearing aids for mild to moderate hearing loss in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 9:CD012023; 2017.
Hickson L, Worrall L, Scarinci N. A Randomized Controlled Trial Evaluating the Active Communication Education Program for Older People with Hearing Impairment. Ear and Hearing 28(2):212-230. 2007.