In any communication interaction, there are two parties: the speaker and the listener.
There are things that each communication partner can do to improve communication interactions.
Here are a few tips and strategies for both the listener and the speaker.
For the SPEAKER
Get the listener’s full attention.
Call their name, pause until you have their attention, then start talking. This gives the listener a chance to focus on your message.
Louder isn’t always better.
Shouting or exaggerated speech is often harder for the listener to understand. Slowing down your pace is more effective. Expressing every word in a precise, accurate, and fully formed manner, a technique called “clear speech”, is the most effective communication approach for individuals with hearing loss.
Stay on topic.
If you change topics too rapidly within a conversation, it makes it harder for the listener to keep up. If you discuss one topic at a time, using clear speech and shorter sentences, it allows the listener to follow more easily. You can even tell the listener “We are talking about ____ now.”
Face the listener.
The ideal speaking distance is approximately three feet, and you should be facing the person to which you are speaking. Move closer to the listener so that your voice is louder than the background noise.
Keep your mouth clear.
Keep your hands or newspapers away from your face when talking. If you are eating, chewing, smoking, etc while talking, your speech will be more difficult to understand. Visual cues will help the listener.
Reduce the noise.
Background noise competes with your speech. Make sure to turn off the radio, TV, running water, household appliances, etc. to keep the environment as quiet as possible.
Lighting is important.
A well-lit room allows the listener to absorb visual information by reading lips and facial expressions. The light should be shining on the speaker’s face and not in the listener’s eyes.
Try not to talk from another room.
If you are not near the listener, they do not have the ability to use visual cues nor hear all of the details of your speech. Make sure the person knows what room you are in, get their attention, and get together in the same room if possible.
Request repetition of important information.
If you have given specific information to the listener, such as a date, time, or place, have the listener repeat it back to you. Many numbers and words sound alike.
Reword for clarity.
If the person is having difficulty understanding a word or phrase, try to find a different way of saying the same thing. Rewording is often more effective than repeating the original words.
Illness reduces capacity.
Everyone has trouble hearing or processing when they are feeling ill or unwell. Fatigue or illness will reduce the listener’s ability to collect and comprehend the speaker’s message.
For the LISTENER
If you have hearing aids, use them.
Wearing your hearing aids all day, every day will help you get used to listening with your hearing aids. It is important to wear them all the time to be ready for interactions with others.
Talk with others face-to-face.
Ask others to look directly at you when speaking. When someone is facing you, their voice will be louder and clearer. You can use visual cues, such as reading lips, to help you with their message.
Choose the best spot.
There is no comparison for a good environment. Avoid poorly lit or noisy areas. If possible, turn on lights or reduce noise in the environment, such as TVs or appliances.
Avoid problem environments.
Anticipate difficult situations and plan how to minimize problems. Sometimes this includes avoiding a noisy or poorly lit restaurant, or sitting in the front of a lecture room or church.
Speak up for yourself.
Be assertive. Tell others that you have hearing loss and let them know how they can help you. For example, ask them to speak in a normal voice or ask them to speak one at a time.
Get it in writing.
If you cannot understand someone in conversation, it is okay to ask them to write it down. If you are attending a meeting or event, ask if written materials are available.
Provide confirmation that you did or did not understand what was being communicated. You want the speaker to know that you are understanding the message.
Do not bluff.
It does not help anyone if you pretend that you understood or heard the message. Bluffing increases the likelihood of miscommunication. It is far more embarrassing to get the message wrong than to ask for someone to repeat.
For people with hearing loss, it is very stressful and fatiguing to listen for long periods of time. If meetings or discussions are too long, arrange frequent breaks. We know that all people experience fatigue while listening, and it is magnified for individuals with difficulty hearing.
Be realistic about your capabilities and what you can expect to understand in different environments. Don’t be too hard on yourself or others.