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Learning to overcome poor communication habits caused by my hearing loss

poor communication habits
The more I analyze my hearing loss over a 30 year period, the more I realize it’s connected to so many things I couldn’t previously make sense of in my social interactions.

Everything in our life is connected and I truly believe hearing loss can have a greater impact than people realize as there are many layers involved. I have recognized poor communication habits (defense mechanisms) I picked up due to my hearing loss and have been actively working to make an effort to break these habits.

Misunderstanding in conversations

When people speak in conversation, each person speaking assumes the other person can understand what they are saying. A hard of hearing person often can catch a lot of what is being said, but may not catch everything. This can cause misunderstanding.

The more varied the social interactions are, the more challenging it can be to fill in the blanks. Over the years, I have moved around a lot and chatted with many different people. I’ve encountered individuals with accents and have worked in many jobs that required socialization, some with individuals who had challenges with speech. As a hard of hearing person, I tried to follow along the best I could, but was still not always catching everything.

As a hard of hearing person, I picked up many defense mechanisms caused by communication challenges

Being tired of people telling me I’m not paying attention when I was trying to, not understanding what is being spoken and not wanting to expose my hearing loss are what led me to start to use defense mechanisms. Using these mechanisms gave me a sense of control as I was feeling misunderstood.

Some of the defense mechanisms I used include:

Blabbering

Listening wasn’t always clear or easy, so I became very good at talking non-stop about whatever was on my mind. The most important part of the conversation is listening, but this is something that I was terrified to do because I had missed out on so many conversations.

Changing the Subject

If I didn’t understand what somebody said, I would just change the subject. When a person responds in ways that don’t make sense, people assume they don’t care about the topic they want to discuss. It can make that person seem rude.

Shallow Talk

I never took part in deep conversations. Shallow conversations avoid that deep sense of needing to hear and understand another person.

Zoning Out

People called me spacey. I had a nickname: “Dory,” because I was slow and had issues remembering things; but I also was covering up my hearing loss this way as a lot of times I never heard whatever that thing was, to begin with. I would sit through meetings, movies, and other various events not really knowing what happened. After these events were over, people would bond by discussing what happened; but I really didn’t have as much to say because I wasn’t catching everything.

Avoiding People

I would go great lengths to avoid conversations with people I didn’t know. Walking down the street, I would go different directions to avoid walking past someone that could “possibly” try to make conversation with me. I gave very basic answers to people at the store when buying things. I would avoid quiet speakers altogether.

Keeping Busy

When a person stays busy, they can avoid people while still being around people. I engaged in everything from traveling, hiking, playing music, taking photos, to playing sports to keep myself occupied. These things can make me appear social without really socializing.

Alcohol

Alcohol also made me appear social. But really it gave me an excuse to be obnoxious and loud. I continued to drink and kept myself distracted at parties, with activities like drinking games, taking photos and jamming to the music, while others sat around and socialized.

Using Humor

Many hard of hearing people like to laugh when they heard something wrong. For me, it made the experience seem funny rather than painful, even if I wasn’t actually laughing inside.

Even in situations when I could hear, I continued to use many of these defense mechanisms out of habit. Looking back, I realize how often I could have appeared rude, immature and even selfish without realizing it.

“Even in situations when I could hear, I continued to use many of these defense mechanisms out of habit. Looking back, I realize how often I could have appeared rude, immature and even selfish without realizing it.”

Connecting the pieces

I always felt like something was missing, but I never quite “got it.” For years, I felt like something was wrong with me. In the back of my head, I knew I was hard of hearing; but because I could still hear sounds and make out a decent amount of conversation, I never quite connected the pieces.

My current partner has been teaching me many things I failed to see in my own conversational skills. Learning ASL has forced me to try to engage, truly engage, in conversation for the first time in my life. Engaging in conversation is literally the key to language learning. And with a new language, I felt like I could start my childhood all over again, rather than appear ignorant in the language I grew up with—that I still feel somewhat behind in.

Advice for breaking poor communication habits

1) Slow down and face your issues

I have learned that the bad habits that are picked up over the years won’t just go away. Many times, we don’t even recognize them until they are brought to our attention. It’s important to understand what is going on so we can learn how to break these bad habits. Confront your feelings and frustrations instead of trying to run away from them. This is a slow process of unlearning and relearning how to respond in various communication settings.

Read more: 9 steps to go from coping to thriving with hearing loss

2) Learn self-advocacy

Be open about your challenges. Tell others when you cannot hear. Hearing loss is a hidden disability, so others are unable to see when you can or cannot hear. Because of this, it is critical that you ask for the resources you need. This can include asking people to speak up, accommodations, captioning devices, remote microphones, requesting a seat in the front, etc.

3) Find good people to mirror

When we are around people that are naturally good socializers, it can benefit us to learn from them. Being in good social surroundings with people that understand your situation can help you thrive. I have learned the importance of our surroundings because we tend to pick up habits from them.

 

Kayla DeGuire
Author Details
Kayla was diagnosed with hearing loss in first grade but is believed to have been hard of hearing since birth. After avoiding facing it for her entire life, she is learning to understand and truly love this part of herself at 33 years old. She has genetic progressive sensorineural hearing loss and wears Phonak Sky B-90 hearing aids. These are pediatric style hearing aids with colorful molds and she chose these because they are bold, colorful and fun (big kid at heart). She has dedicated the last four years to learning American Sign Language as she has fallen in love with the language and wants to utilize the language in whatever work she does, yet she’s exhausted from pushing herself so hard and taking a break to heal from her past and share her life stories. She feels very “in-between” worlds with a moderate-moderately severe hearing loss and is hoping to continuously learn how she can become a better advocate for people who have been on a similar journey. “I share my stories with advice of what has worked for me. One thing I have learned is what works for me may not work for somebody else. Our DHH communities are diverse and our wishes is something that should be respected and celebrated as it makes each of us safe to be ourselves in our own unique beautiful way.”
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Kayla DeGuire
Kayla was diagnosed with hearing loss in first grade but is believed to have been hard of hearing since birth. After avoiding facing it for her entire life, she is learning to understand and truly love this part of herself at 33 years old. She has genetic progressive sensorineural hearing loss and wears Phonak Sky B-90 hearing aids. These are pediatric style hearing aids with colorful molds and she chose these because they are bold, colorful and fun (big kid at heart). She has dedicated the last four years to learning American Sign Language as she has fallen in love with the language and wants to utilize the language in whatever work she does, yet she’s exhausted from pushing herself so hard and taking a break to heal from her past and share her life stories. She feels very “in-between” worlds with a moderate-moderately severe hearing loss and is hoping to continuously learn how she can become a better advocate for people who have been on a similar journey. “I share my stories with advice of what has worked for me. One thing I have learned is what works for me may not work for somebody else. Our DHH communities are diverse and our wishes is something that should be respected and celebrated as it makes each of us safe to be ourselves in our own unique beautiful way.”
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