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8 Communication Tips to Strengthen Relationships


I’ve adjusted to my hearing loss in many ways and have asked those I love – friends, colleagues and acquaintances – to adjust to me as well. But with some 35 years with hearing loss behind me, I’ve been thinking it’s time to refresh my relationships.

It’s embarrassing to have to ask people to repeat themselves, not just once, but over time and for many years. But sometimes it’s necessary. Those of us with hearing loss can continue faking it to avoid that embarrassment but that only goes so far. We’re found out eventually. That said, it’s also true that it’s not always me and my hearing when something spoken to me is not clear. Many people mumble, drop their voices, turn away and do other things that can make interpersonal communication challenging.

So how can you continue to have good relationships, despite your hearing loss? 

8 tips to refresh your relationships 

Be Aware of your Spacerestaurant-man-person-coffee

Where you spend time with your friends and family matters for your listening situations. For example, I try not to meet someone for the first time in a noisy place and suggest quieter options.

In the kitchen, I ask that folks not run water, realign the dishes in the dishwasher, clink glasses or plates and other noisy things if we are to converse.

Go Face-to Face

HLM blog feature_tinnitus

I’ve written about the difficulties when it comes to talking on the phone with hearing loss. From my perspective it’s only getting worse. Technology, culture, accents, vocal qualities and quirks are all part of the weave of words both on the phone and face to face. Cell phones have their own idiosyncrasies but so do cordless phones, flip phones and even wired phones. And don’t get me started about those who prefer to speak on the speaker phone.

I’ve learned to ask many people to text or email me before calling so I know whom to expect. I also ask some folks to text or email me instead of calling as I know our telecommunications is going to be difficult.

Position Yourself

Two young female sisters sitting on sofa in the living room at home with a cup of tea, talking and laughing.

If someone is turned around I will ask them to face me when speaking.

In the car I am either driving or the passenger and can get by in most verbal situations. Sometimes I am the backseat passenger where I seat myself in the left rear seat that gives me the broadest soundscape. It’s easier to stay engaged in the car talk that way.

Time it Rightpexels-photo-29992

I now expect that early in the morning and later at night voice qualities change. Upon waking or heading to bed, or because of fatigue, stress, attention and how busy folks may be, I don’t expect communication to be easy so I don’t force anything. But I am ever more aware how these things might affect our communication.  

Care for your Hearing Technology

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On several occasions I have also discovered this. I have to change my batteries and filters more regularly. I recently spent a weekend with friends and experienced very poor hearing. I was freaked out when I returned home then remembered to change the filter. I have to remember that there is no set time interval between changes and to be more aware of when my hearing goes south. A 5% DB loss due to a clogged filter can be the difference between a great conversation and lots of stress and embarrassment.

Ask for Helppexels-photo

I am one of the lucky ones to have a sweetheart who since the day we met several months ago has made adjustments. She’s been patient (usually) and asked me if I heard something she said or if I needed her to repeat something. Nevertheless, there are moments when our communication seems to be what it was when we first connected.  I find I need to remind her from time to time how best to communicate with me in a variety of situations. But now, with past experience as the guide, she can make those adjustments on the spot and we go on. But I know it won’t be the last time I have to remind her. That’s just my reality and ours.  

I also now make it a point to ask someone whose voice qualities make it difficult to understand them to speak up or repeat themselves until I understand what they are trying to say. I do believe people with accents and voice quirks are themselves aware of them and are usually willing to adjust. Communication is always a two way street and not just the province of us “hearing lost.” Remember that and don’t be embarrassed to ask for what you need to enhance your communication.  

I send my appreciation to many of my friends and colleagues who know me from the get go. Whenever we get together they’re already conscious of my hearing status. They seem to easily make adjustments and ask me where they need to sit or where I need to sit to hear them best. And when the conversations start, they make sure to include me. Bless them all. Most of them.

Know how to manage groupspexels-photo-57825

Group gatherings of course are tough, and I make the best effort I can to be engaged but have stopped trying (and faking) to be included. I go inside when that happens, become an observer and let my mind and spirit guide me through the occasion. I pick up the chat when I can. Every now and then someone will notice me at a distance and strike up a conversation with me. I appreciate those moments that take all the responsibility to communicate off my shoulders.

Groups are tough too because everyone is not speaking at the same volume, with the same vocal architecture and sound quality. As the result, I am making adjustments on the fly in the course of just a few sentences spoken by several different people.

Again, rather than ask everyone to slow down or speak with one voice, I recede. I understand how isolation happens and I have lived a share of my life there. But I no longer feel that’s always necessary if I stay engaged and have a repertoire of other behaviors to keep myself in the game. All of life is not chit chat.

Be Patient 

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I cannot change who I am or how I hear no matter how I adjust my position or upgrade my technology. Sometimes, nothing works. And that’s OK. I simply choose to adjust my hearing aid and my relationships accordingly. I have let go of some relationships because our communication was just too challenging to maintain.

Relationships are critical to my life, love, friendships and work. They make life richer and more delicious and I don’t want to miss a thing. But not all relationships are equally satisfying or possible to maintain if communication is challenging.

A couple I know is aware of my hearing loss. The woman makes every effort to include me and ensure that I am hearing her. Her husband on the other hand has a wonderfully deep, sonorous voice that is simply impossible for me to negotiate unless he makes a concerted effort to be heard. While facing me is part of it, he also needs to speak much louder than he normally does. That works for a sentence or two then his voice recedes again and the message does not reach Garcia. I’m sure asking most people to have to speak out of their comfort zone is not fun. Still, I enjoy this man and our relationship and I want to be able to engage him in more conversation than we now enjoy. It just appears as if this relationship is one that is not going to be based on chatting.

So exhale. Give those you love a quick refresher course. Once told is not twice learned – so tell them again. And repeat as often as needed. Those who care about you and your relationship will understand and adjust. They will also appreciate that you cared enough to speak up.

Have you had to refresh your relationships because of your hearing loss? What have you found works well with your sweetheart, friends,  colleagues and others?

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Stu Nunnery
Stu Nunnery is a professional writer, speaker, composer, musician, recording artist, actor and activist from Rhode Island. He has a special kinship with musicians and singers with hearing loss, but writes and speaks on a variety of hearing issues from his 35 years experience with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. He has hearing in one ear and sight in one eye, which makes for interesting sensory challenges from time to time. He seeks to be of help, hope and inspiration to those of whom he affectionately calls the “hearing lost.”

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