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Have Satisfying Conversations with Those Experiencing Hearing Loss

This post first appeared on Living with Hearing Loss. You can also connect with Living With Hearing Loss on Facebook and Twitter!

All of us with hearing loss know how hard it can sometimes be to converse comfortably with our friends and family. We get tired, frustrated and sometimes just tune out. But it is hard on those that love us as well. They don’t like to see us struggle or be unhappy; and they can get annoyed that we don’t understand what they are saying. Today’s post is for them. Please share these tips with your friends and family and enjoy better conversations!

Conversations with those experiencing hearing lossHOW THOSE WITH HEARING LOSS HEAR

The first step in having better conversations is for our friends and family to understand how those of us with hearing loss actually hear. The best way I know to explain it is as a game board from Wheel of Fortune. Some of the letters are filled in, others are blank. The contestant (or listener in this case) is trying to make sense of the assorted and incomplete sounds he or she is hearing and turn these sounds into a word or phrase that makes sense in the context of the conversation.

It is also useful to point out that hearing aids don’t work like glasses. Glasses, by bending light through a curved lens, can transform an image that is blurry and distorted into something crisp and clear. So if you wear glasses, in most cases, you can see just like someone with typical vision, or pretty darn close. With hearing aids, this is not the case. Hearing aids are helpful in amplifying sounds, but this just makes them louder, not necessarily crisper or clearer. Most people with hearing loss can hear that someone is talking to them; they just can’t understand what words are being said. The clarity is not there.

Hearing aids also have a tough time differentiating among sounds so that the background noise (i.e., the hum of the refrigerator or the air conditioner) is amplified in addition to the more important sounds of the conversation. This can actually make it harder to hear in certain situations.


So, with that as background, here are my tips for having more satisfying conversations with someone who has hearing loss. Please share your tips and ideas in the comments.

1.  Provide Context Before and When Speaking: Context makes it easier to fill in the blank spaces of the words on the Wheel of Fortune game board. If all you hear is “__oot,” knowing if the conversation is about owls (hoot) or a robbery (loot) or musical instruments (flute) is a big help.

2.  Get Their Attention Before Speaking: Hearing takes concentration for those with hearing loss, so make sure they are ready and are paying attention. Talking to them before they are ready will have them playing catch-up and make it harder for them to understand the context of the conversation.

3.  Make Sure They Can See Your Lips: Lip-reading is helpful in filling in the blanks of what is not heard. I always tell people I can’t hear you if I can’t see you. See my post I Can’t Hear in the Dark for more on this. Don’t cover your mouth with your hands and make sure that you are well-lit.

4.  Enunciate Clearly and Speak at a Steady Rate: Remember that volume is only part of the problem. Clarity of the sounds is really key. Speak your words clearly, and try to maintain a regular pace of speech. Rapid speech is very difficult to follow since all that brain processing time is condensed, while slower than typical speech will look weird on the lips and make lip-reading less useful.

5.  Be Aware of The Surroundings: Background noise is a problem, so try to avoid it if you can. Turn off the A/C or at least turn the fan down to low. Don’t play music in the background. Pick a quieter restaurant or request a corner booth. A quiet and well-lit spot always works best.

6.  Take Turns Speaking: If there are multiple people in the conversation, it is important that only one person speaks at a time and that each speaker makes the effort to face the person who has trouble hearing.

7.  Be Prepared to Repeat or Rephrase: Get ready for hearing, “What?,” at least a couple of times during the conversation. Try not to get frustrated, but simply repeat what you have said. If the person does not get it the second time, try rephrasing your thought using different words that might be easier for him or her to hear. Or spell a word that is giving a particularly hard time. Often knowing the first few letters of a word can help to connect the dots.

8.  Keep Your Sense of Humor:  Hey, it can be frustrating, I know. But remember the goal is to connect with one another, so why not laugh at the misunderstandings. It is better than the alternative.

Readers, what tips do you have for improving conversations with someone with hearing loss?

Shari Eberts

Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing loss.


Wednesday 30th of December 2015

I honestly thought for years my daughters hearing aids made her hear normally. Finding out this wasn't the case almost broke my heart more than her diagnosis. I am her biggest advocate and think outside the square all the time for ways to help her. She is brilliant verbally and we wanted that for her she also lip reads....But in 2016 and sadly 11 years after diagnosis it has dawned on me she also should have been given the tools to sign.....This is my project in the New Year for us all to learn to sign as well....... better late than never : (

Shari Eberts

Thursday 31st of December 2015

Good luck with the signing in 2016. It sounds like she is doing very well verbally too! This is all good! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Alana Mautone (@RamblinGarden)

Tuesday 29th of December 2015

My mother in law (late 80's) has hearing loss. Facing her and making sure she is looking at me helps. I have to rephrase, too. Enough times, we still have to repeat things to her. And, I admit to a lot of frustration. I want to just talk to her loudly, which I intellectually realize will not help her understand what I am trying to say. She refuses to look into hearing aids, and, after reading your post, I think I understand some of her hesitation better.

Shari Eberts

Tuesday 29th of December 2015

Thanks for sharing your experience with your mother in law. Hearing aids can be helpful, but it takes time to get used to them. I am so grateful for mine. Even though they are not perfect, they do help in a lot of situations.

Beth @GrannyBeth3

Tuesday 29th of December 2015

My husband has hearing loss. He refuses to wear hearing aids because he says that they make it worse - the end. I never understood what he meant until today. I never thought about how frustrating it must be for him because I know that the 1)louder than loud television,2)having me repeat film conversations while the film is going on, 3) him bringing home foot powder instead of work numbers 4) or having every conversation begin and end with "huh" and "what" is frustrating for me, especially since he won't talk about what's going on. Thank you.for the insight.

Shari Eberts

Tuesday 29th of December 2015

Thank you for reading. Hearing loss is not well understood. I hope that posts like this will help everyone to communicate better with those they love.

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