How to Improve Communication with a Hearing-Impaired Listener

Trying to communicate with someone who has hearing loss may seem like a challenge at first. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be. As a family member or friend with hearing loss, there are a few things you can do that will greatly improve the communication. Here a few tips for what you can do to enhance your ability as a speaker to create a better experience for a you and a hearing-impaired listener.

Set the Stage

  • Get the person’s attention first: You can do this by saying his or her name. If necessary, you can also touch the listener’s arm, hand, or shoulder lightly.
  • Face the listener directly: Make sure he or she can clearly see your mouth, especially in noisier environments. Don’t turn or look away; maintain eye contact when speaking.
  • Stay close: Stay within about 4 to 6 feet of your listener. If he or she can hear better from one ear, stay a little closer to that side.
  • Eliminate noise: If possible, try to reduce background noise as much as possible. Sounds from the TV, radio, etc. can affect the ability for a listener to understand you. If it is noisy, speak directly into the listener’s ear.

Start the Conversation

  • Keep hands away from face: Try to keep your hands away from your face when speaking. This will help produce clearer speech and make it easier for the listener to understand you.
  • Speak naturally: Speak in a normal tone of voice at a moderate pace. Don’t over-emphasize words or shout at the listener. Doing so could distort the sound of speech and making understanding you more difficult. Don’t slow your speech either because you don’t want to lose your natural rhythm. Instead of slowing your speech, use pauses between sentences to make sure you have been understood.
  • Use body language: Your facial expressions and body language can portray very important information. We communicate a lot through gestures and expressions. Also, most people can naturally lip read, which will help the listener recognize more difficult speech. To help with this, try not to eat food or chew gum when speaking.
  • Rephrase instead of repeat: If the listener does not understand you the first time, try rephrasing what you said. If he or she did not understand you the first time, there is a good chance he or she might not understand the second time either. So try to say it in a different way instead of repeating the same words over and over.
  • Give clues when changing subject: Avoid sudden changes in topic. If you are moving on to a new subject, let the listener know what you are talking about now.

Show Empathy

  • Be patient: If the listener’s response is slower, then be patient with them. Trying to understand you can be a lot of work; it can take time for the listener to get accustomed to your voice.
  • Show respect: The goal is to help the listener build confidence and have a constructive conversation. Make sure to talk to the listener directly not about him or her to someone else.
  • Be helpful: If you are giving specific and detailed information such as a time, phone number, or place, then make sure the listener clearly understood you. Ask him or her to repeat the specifics back to you or write it down. Whenever possible, try to write down information such as directions or schedules.
  • Pay attention: If the listener looks puzzled, take note. This might indicate misunderstanding. Try asking leading questions to make sure he or she heard you correctly.
  • Take turns speaking: Give the listener a chance to talk too, and try not to interrupt him.
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