Strategic Listening to Maximize Communication

June 2010

Editor: People with hearing loss can do a lot to improve communications in a variety of situations. Here’s Elizabeth Booth with some ideas for you. Elizabeth is a retired teacher and a graduate of HLAA’s American Academy of Hearing Loss Support Specialists.

Elizabeth began her presentation with the observation that those of us with hearing loss need to deal with the communications challenges it presents every day. She described a communications model that included six elements: sender, receiver, environment, context, message, and feedback. The first part of her presentation focused on several of these elements in turn.

She enumerated a number of ways in which the sender could exacerbate communication challenges, including speaking pace, volume, exaggerated enunciation, food or gum in the mouth, an accent or speech disability, moving around while speaking, and having something obscure the mouth.

Receiver issues include hearing loss, hearing aid and/or cochlear implant limitations or problems, fatigue, distractions, lack of interest, and stress or anxiety.

Environmental problems include lighting, spatial relationships (e.g, is your good ear on the side of the sender?), the comfort of the participants, distractions, and acoustics.

Finally, message problems include broken or accented language, unfamiliar language, and unfamiliar terminology.

Elizabeth then turned her attention to a strategy for solving communications problems. Step one is to identify the problem. Is it something the speaker is doing, or is it the room acoustics? Once you’ve identified the problem, decide if it’s something you can solve or not, and act accordingly. You may have to educate the sender, and you may have to remind them how to best communicate with you.

Another helpful strategy is to anticipate the situation and prepare for it. For example, you may want to arrive at a lecture a little early to get a good seat, or you may want to read a play before attending a performance.

Her next topic was the three types of communicators: passive, aggressive, and assertive.

A passive communicator seems uninvolved in the conversation. She typically asks no questions about the discussion, and doesn’t ask for clarification if she doesn’t understand. And she certainly doesn’t take the time to explain how to best communicate with her.

The aggressive communicator blames and uses excuses. Everything is someone else’s fault. She appears hostile and belligerent, and actively discourages communication. She may dominate the conversation, and typically displays little or no interest in the other person’s ideas.

All of us should strive to be assertive communicators. An assertive communicator is one who is engaged in the conversation and working to ensure maximum communication. She explains her hearing needs and is respectful of the needs of others.

The final portion of Elizabeth’s presentation focused on specific tips for difficult situations.

The first situation was trying to understand in airports and airplanes. Even people with good hearing often have problems understanding what’s being said in these poor acoustic environments, so it’s no surprise that people with hearing loss have difficulties. A very good idea is to tell everyone you see that you have a hearing loss and you would appreciate their help. This includes the gate attendant, the flight attendant, your seatmate, and the folks in security. And tell them specifically how they can help you communicate. You can also ask for preboarding, so you don’t have to worry about which group you should board with. Don’t sit in the emergency exit rows.

The number one rule in hospitals is NO BLUFFING! Miscommunication could result in an unpleasant or even life-threatening situation. So if you don’t understand something, get clarification! Get and use one of the many hospital kits that chapters throughout the country have developed. Tell everyone you meet about your hearing loss. Arrange to wear your hearing aid and/or cochlear implant into the operating room, and to have it put on in the recovery room.

Many movies and theaters are providing captioning, so try to attend a captioned performance, if possible. If possible, read the script beforehand. If an assistive device benefits you, get one and use it. You may have to go through a few before you find one that is charged up. If you’re just not getting it, despite all your efforts, try to enjoy the visual aspects of the performance