You may experience some challenges when speaking to a hard of hearing family member, friend, or co-worker. But it’s not always their hearing loss that makes it difficult. Sometimes the things you say can derail a conversation and offend the other person.
You might not realize it but talking louder or using certain words or phrases—even as a joke—might insult people with hearing loss. To keep your conversations positive and ensure the other person hears you, avoid the following conversational pitfalls.
Yelling or shouting
If someone can’t hear you, you might think you need to repeat yourself louder, or even shout at them. Yet many hard of hearing people will tell you that their challenge in conversing isn’t always due to volume—often, the issue is clarity. A better strategy is to repeat yourself while enunciating at an even pace or rephrase what you said. Either approach will be more effective and less insulting than just yelling at the other person.
“Never mind, it’s not important”
If you’re asked to repeat something, one of the most hurtful things you can say is that it’s not important. By doing this, you’re pretty much telling someone that they’re not important enough to know what you said. Instead of disregarding the other person, follow the advice above and rephrase or repeat yourself clearly. It doesn’t take much effort, and you’ll avoid making them feel left out.
If someone mentions they have hearing loss, you might think it’s funny to respond by saying “WHAT?” sarcastically. While intended as a joke, this can be insulting to people who genuinely struggle to hear each day. Instead of joking about hearing loss, ask what you can do to help someone dealing with it hear you better.
“Are you deaf or something?”
Hearing loss occurs in a wide spectrum, from mild to severe or total loss. If someone struggles to hear, you may need to repeat what you said or speak more clearly. But calling someone deaf if they don’t catch what you said the first time can hurt their feelings, and to those who really have total hearing loss commenting on their condition as though it were a slur is insulting.
“Turn your hearing aids up!”
Another joke you might have heard involves telling someone having trouble hearing to “turn your hearing aids up!” whether they wear hearing aids or not. Hearing loss is a real medical condition, and hearing aids allow them to hear what they would otherwise miss. Why joke about medical devices that can help the hard of hearing function with greater ease?
“Do you have selective hearing?”
There are many environmental factors that impact how people hear. Are you talking to them on a busy street? At a loud restaurant? Outside on a windy day? While the other person may hear well in quiet settings, these environments can make hearing and comprehending speech more challenging. While it might seem like they have selective hearing (i.e., choosing what they do or don’t want to hear voluntarily), just remember that background noise can genuinely affect how well someone understands what you’re saying.
As hearing loss continues to affect a growing number of people, it is more than likely someone you know, or meet for the first time, is hard of hearing. Keep the above in mind when speaking with them to make sure you both can communicate successfully.