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We’ve all done it, whether we have hearing loss or not: You’re having a conversation with someone you’ve never met in a chaotic environment like a bar or restaurant. After a few quick back and forths — “So how do you know Rob?” “How do you like working there?” — your conversational partner launches into a monologue about some aspect of their work. You’re interested, but after one or two times of having to ask them to stop and repeat themselves, you start to see that it’s slowing them down and making them less excited to tell you about themself.
So you start nodding along and saying, “Mm-hmm,” even though you’re totally lost. They regain their momentum and seem content, but once the monologue ends, what do you do? You can’t respond with anything that makes sense. What if they ask a question? The conversation has effectively ended.
Pretending to hear is a bad habit that some of us get into, especially when we’re new to hearing loss. We routinely encounter the problem of not being able to hear, but we don’t want to slow down a conversation or a meeting to repeatedly ask for clarification. Unfortunately, pretending to hear leads to embarrassment in social situations and potential calamity at work.
Disclose Your Hearing Loss
Disclosing your hearing loss gives others the opportunity to accommodate your hearing loss. Once people know that you have an issue, most are more than willing to try to help you understand them.
Whenever you need to ask someone to repeat themself, try to practice “multipurpose disclosure,” whereby you tell the other party that you have hearing loss, and also suggest a way or two that they can help you understand them better. An example might be, “Sorry, I didn’t catch that… I’m a little hard of hearing. Would you mind speaking a little louder and adding a little space between your words?” This lets them know that you’ll have more issues understanding their speech than other people might, while also giving them a clue as to how to work around it.
Types of disclosure have actually been researched, and multipurpose disclosure was found to be the most effective, by a wide margin.
Ask to Change the Situation
If you need to hear someone, ask for the situation to be altered to make it possible. If you’re in a bar or restaurant, you can step outside for a moment. If there’s a television or radio blaring, you can turn it off. If you’re seated in a group and get into a conversation with the person one seat away, ask to switch. You may feel like you’re putting someone out for a moment, but it’s easy to forget that it is rude to allow someone to talk without listening to what they’re saying. Take the steps to give the conversation the attention it deserves.
Disclosure at Work
Some people may be hesitant to disclose that they have hearing loss at work for fear of being judged less-valuable to the organization, but research bears out that it is better to disclose. Disclosure also makes the protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act available to you, which includes reasonable accommodations for hearing loss. A conversation with your superior can determine what is reasonable in your organization.
Once people at work know that you have an issue with hearing, you can make requests to be seated closer to speakers or audio technology. You might be able to perform some actions via email that might normally happen in person. The first step to improving a situation is to acknowledge it!
If you’re not yet wearing hearing aids, make an appointment for a hearing test and get them as soon as possible. Struggling to hear in social situations is, as you may have noticed, exhausting, and soon leads to social withdrawal for many people. Likewise at work, hearing loss may not slow you down at all with the right set of hearing aids.
Some people still imagine that hearing aids are a sign of “getting old.” While hearing loss may be an inevitable part of getting older, hearing aids allow us to stay in the conversation when we might otherwise be relegated to the sidelines. Whatever the state of your hearing loss, get a hearing test today and find out if hearing aids are the right next step for you.