I stopped in a shop recently to chat with the owner about a possible business relationship and had a delightful conversation with the store manager. She had asked me a few times to repeat what I had said, but sometimes I get excited and speak too fast, so I didn’t think anything about it. However, she turned away from me to answer the phone and I noticed that she had the volume turned way up. I didn’t say anything because sometimes I have my phone on speaker too, especially when I’m at my desk and need to use my hands for something while I’m talking. She explained that she was profoundly deaf and had been reading my lips. I have to say that she did an amazing job and I had no idea.
But it raised a good point for me when dealing particularly with my clients who may be experiencing some hearing loss. So I thought I’d put together a few tips on how I communicate with people who have hearing loss.
- I ensure I have the attention of the person with whom I am speaking before beginning. Sometimes if they do not notice that I’ve entered the room, I will gently tap an arm or hand to get their attention or to just let them know I’m nearby, and smile.
- When I speak to them, I make sure that they can see my face clearly and that I am not too far away and hard to see.
- I always try to remind myself to speak slowly, but naturally, and clearly. I have a tendency to speak quickly, so I have to be conscious of slowing myself down a bit.
- One thing I have to remind myself is to not even try to speak to someone with hearing loss while I’m standing in another room. We do this all the time without thinking – but with someone who cannot hear, it’s pointless.
- Keeping my sentences simple and breaking up complex sentences into smaller ones really seems to help.
- Making sure to use the person’s name before I begin speaking to him/her ensures that I have his/her attention.
- Because I tend to talk with my hands, I try to limit that so it is not distracting, and always try to remember to keep my hands away from my mouth.
- Reducing any background noise like a radio, television or other people as much as possible also really helps.
- Making sure the other person’s hearing aids, if he/she has them, are turned on to the appropriate volume is obviously helpful. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone through an entire explanation of something, only to have the person look at me like I’m nuts. Well, okay, that’s sort of normal, but they appear to have no idea as to what I said. So just make sure they have their hearing aids on before you launch into what will end up being a very one-sided conversation.
- Another strategy I use is to ask simple questions that can be answered simply. Don’t give too many options at one time. Break up questions into smaller bits. I do a lot of networking, so you can imagine how difficult this can be for me sometimes – I’m accustomed to asking questions that elicit longer, in-depth answers where I do less of the talking! However, my clients do like when I let them talk while I work and don’t seem to need more than an occasional nod or um hmm to let them know I’m listening.
There is lots of great technology available for people with varying degrees of hearing loss, so encourage your senior friends and relatives to look into it to see if it will help improve their communication with others. AARP has a terrific website for resources for seniors, and you can find a recent article about hearing at http://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2016/hearing-loss-test-resolutions-kb.html
Remember, be patient, be natural and enjoy your conversations with your elder friends and relatives.