It’s the time of year for gatherings and lingering meals around the table. As drinks and conversation flow, pay special attention to the friends or family who may have difficulty hearing in a crowded and noisy room.
This week, I revisit tips on how to amplify and receive messages of thanks and good cheer.
Having three relatives who wear hearing aids with varying degrees of success has impacted my own family, especially when gathering for a holiday meal. I thought these things were foolproof, an instant fix. Well, let me tell you, it’s simply not clear. Product failure and accompanying communication breakdowns often lead to impatience, not empathy.
Hearing loss is a disorder that affects not only the wearer of temperamental hearing aids, but everyone who communicates with him or her.
A conscientious reader sent me a workbook called Living with Hearing Loss by Samuel Trychin, Ph.D., who conducts workshops on the topic, and I am here to sing its praises. As a result of reading it, I have a better appreciation for the challenges faced by the hard of hearing, and I am armed with stronger coping mechanisms. I’d like to share some of these helpful suggestions with the hard of hearing and their significant others.
Signs and symptoms of hearing loss range from the clearly evident to the very subtle. Some examples:
• Frequently misunderstanding words.
• Asking people to repeat themselves.
• Failing to respond or responding incorrectly.
• Avoiding social situations.
• Turning up the radio or TV too loudly.
It’s also important to recognize how different environments affect the hard of hearing. Exercise patience when conversing in moving cars, large groups and on the telephone.
The impact of hearing loss is most often felt by significant others and family members and can manifest itself as frustration or avoidance. Here are problems experienced by partners and relatives you might relate to:
• Not knowing if the person who is hard of hearing has understood or misunderstood.
• Repeating yourself.
• Having to act as an interpreter in social situations.
• Not doing things you and the person used to enjoy.
The hard of hearing who are aware of the impact of their condition on others are often impacted themselves by alienation. They may feel a loss of competency that can lead to anxiety or depression. The hard of hearing may dominate conversations to avoid being the listener or bluff their way through.
At a loss for words on how to improve communication? Here are some speaking guidelines for partners and relatives:
• Get the listener’s attention before talking and face them if possible.
• Keep your mouth visible for lip reading — no chewing or cigarettes.
• Ask the listener how best to talk to him or her. Is one ear better than the other?
• Speak clearly and at a moderate pace.
• Inform the listener when changing topics.
• Rephrase when not understood.
Speaking guidelines for the hard of hearing:
• Inform others how to best communicate to you (“Because of my hearing loss, I need you to … ”).
• If possible, pick a quiet environment in which to communicate; learn how to anticipate difficult ones.
• Pay close attention to the person who is talking.
• Repeat back to the speaker what you heard to ensure that you understand his or her message.
“When we ask people to alter their communication behavior, we are introducing a problem into their lives, so be kind, gentle and patient,” advises Trychin.
The hard of hearing and their friends and family should make a collaborative effort to hear and be heard. Using etiquette may be a helpful aid for sharing stories this holiday and beyond.
Bizia Greene is an etiquette expert and owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Send your comments and conundrums to email@example.com or 505-988-2070.