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Never Mind: How to Handle Communication in Groups

Tips for Group Conversations with Hearing Loss

When I was growing up hard of hearing, I dreaded group conversations. I could handle things pretty well in elementary school, but when it came to middle school and high school, communicating in group situations became a nightmare. 

It’s like being at a ping pong tournament. 

Person number one says something. 

Person number two responds. 

You whip your head around in hopes of catching what is being said. 

Person number three chimes in. 

You whip your head around again, but this time, person number two has said something.

They all laugh. 

Me, I was lost at the first sentence by person number one–and still looking for the ball. 

If by some chance I bravely had some courage, I would ask, “What’d you guys say?” 

“Never mind. I’ll tell you later,” they’d reply.  

I hated that response. I always wanted to crawl into a hole. 

After a while, I learned how to do the social bluffing game. You know the one–you smile when they smile, you laugh when they laugh. (And you pray that no one notices or asks you a question.)

After I became deaf as a teen, I had to learn a whole new way to navigate the world, because I could no longer hear anything without hearing aids. I always say that becoming deaf was the best thing that could have happened to me, because one morning, I decided to embrace the journey instead of half-living it. 

In the process, I learned some creative ways to handle group conversations. 

9 Tips for Group Conversations with Hearing Loss

  • When I attend a new group or social event without an interpreter or captioning, I arrive early so that I can talk with the group leader.
  • I sit up front or at an angle where I can see the main speaker. 
  • I use an app, “My Ear” plugged into a microphone to capture speech to text. I occasionally use the Roger Pen to help me with lipreading–just having the sound coming in helps my brain lipread words better 
  • I ask people to raise their hand before they speak so that I can identify who is speaking
  • If I get lost in conversation, I ask questions such as, “Are we talking about ______,” “Can someone summarize the discussion, please?”
  • I get up and move closer to whoever is talking–this helps people to realize that I’m doing what I can to access communication–they often become more aware and change how they talk so that I can access conversation.
  • I sometimes ask someone to take notes on my laptop 
  • If I get stuck on a word, I’ll ask if they can spell it out
  • I summarize what I did understand, then ask to clarify or repeat what I didn’t understand.

The first time I went out to lunch with my two sister-in-laws, I had a difficult time following the conversation at first. They simply weren’t aware of what we needed to do to make conversation flow easily. Once I explained what I needed, they quickly adjusted, and now our lunches are always pleasant outings. 

How about you? What are some creative ways you make conversations in group settings accessible for you?