One of the most common reasons for a communication breakdown is poor speaking habits of the individuals involved in the conversation. Things like sloppy or mumbled speech, obstructing visual cues, or talking from another room. These behaviors are generally unintentional and easy to modify.
Consider the following tips when communicating with a person who wears hearing aids to help them communicate successfully.
Everyone, regardless of whether or not they have normal or impaired hearing, benefits when speakers use clear speech. Clear speech is a speaking style that focuses on the pronunciation of sounds, speaking at a normal rate (not too fast or too slow), and using pauses to allow the listener time to process what is being said. It is common for people to speak too loud or at an unnaturally slow pace when they first find out the person they are communicating with wears hearing aids. Speaking too loud can be painful to the hearing aid wearer or distort the words; talking too slow can be quite distracting or even offensive. So when speaking, especially to the hearing aid wearer, remember to speak clearly and and directly to the listener.
Optimize Visual Cues
One of the biggest benefits of face-to-face communication is that the listener can take advantage of visual or lip-reading cues. This benefit is even greater for those with hearing loss. Research has shown that the addition of visual cues to the audio signal substantially increases gains in speech understanding, especially in tough listening situations. To optimize visual communication for the hearing aid user keep the following things in mind:
- Avoid conversations from another room
- Keep hands or other barriers away from your face
- Avoid talking with food in your mouth
- Do not chew gum
- Moustaches may hide lip-reading cues
- Optimal lip-reading ability occurs at a distance of 5 feet but decreases markedly at 20+ feet
- Converse in an area with good lighting
- Face the hearing aid wearer directly
Attract Their Attention
An easy way to improve communication is to get the hearing aid users attention before starting to talk. Establishing eye contact and saying their name, it will indicate to the listener that you would like to talk. Whether it’s waving, tapping the person on the shoulder, be sure that they are paying attention to you before you begin to speak. This gives them the opportunity to shift their attention, catch the beginning (not just the end) of what is said, and maximize lip-reading cues.
Listening Environment is Importatnt
When communicating with a hearing aid user take note of the listening environment you are in. It it is easier for hearing aid users to communicate in quieter than in louder environments (ex. sporting events, restaurant/party situations, car). When possible, select places where the listening environment is more favorable for effective communication (ex. one-on-one situations, small group situations). If a noisy situation is unavoidable, like in a restaurant, consider accommodating the hearing aid user by:
- Letting them sit with their back to a wall
- When making a reservation, request a table away from the kitchen and bar area
- Avoid places with live music
- Sit in a booth when possible
Patience is Key
Hearing aids do not return the wearers hearing back to normal, rather they provide those with hearing loss access to the everyday sounds of their lives however. This means that the wearer might hear your voice but not understand exactly what is being said. Speaking clearly, optimizing visual cues, and when possible making special accommodations are all effective ways to improve communication but always remember to be kind and patient when communicating with the hearing aid user. There are times when you may need to repeat, rephrase, simplify, or write down what you are trying to say. If you do become frustrated, imagine how the person with hearing loss feels as they feel this dfficulty every single day.
Keeping these tips in mind the next time you communicate with a person who has hearing loss will make the conversation more stress free and effective!