Communicating with people with hearing loss

Communication tips when talking to someone with hearing loss

People who seek our help tell us they are sometimes mistaken as being rude, aloof or even less intelligent because of their hearing difficulties. They may even start to shy away from social activities you’ve found enjoyable in the past – particularly those in noisy surroundings. All this might be make sufferers feel frustrated, grumpy and irritable.

But the problems of hearing loss also affect the family, friends and coworkers of those with the condition. While we strongly recommend that decisive actions are taken, such as arranging a hearing test and treatment, improving understanding of best communication strategies also plays a strong part in maintaining the peace.

Successful communication requires the efforts of all people involved in a conversation. Even when the person with hearing loss utilises hearing aids and active listening strategies, it is crucial that others involved in the communication process consistently use good communication strategies, including the following:

  • People with hearing difficulties rely on lip-reading and non-verbal cues. Face the hearing impaired person on the same level and in good light whenever possible. Position yourself so that the light is shining on the speaker’s face, not in the eyes of the listener.
  • Do not talk from another room. Not being able to see each other when talking is a common reason people have difficulty understanding what is said.
  • Do not shout. Shouting distorts speech sounds and may make speech reading more difficult. Speak clearly, slowly, distinctly, but naturally, without shouting or exaggerating mouth movements.
  • Say the person’s name before beginning a conversation. This gives the listener a chance to focus attention and reduces the chance of missing words at the beginning of the conversation.
  • Avoid talking too quickly. Slow down a little, pause between sentences or phrases, and wait to make sure you have been understood before going on.
  • Keep your hands away from your face. If you are eating, chewing, or smoking while talking, your speech will be more difficult to understand.
  • If the hearing impaired listener hears better in one ear than the other, remember this and position yourself accordingly on their good side.
  • Be patient. Remember, they may hear your voice, but still may have difficulty understanding some words.
  • Most hearing impaired people have greater difficulty understanding speech when there is background noise. Try to minimise background noise when talking. Be prepared to walk to a more favourable environment and choose restaurants that are quieter.
  • Some people with hearing loss are very sensitive to loud sounds. Avoid situations where there will be loud sounds when possible.
  • If the hearing impaired person has difficulty understanding a particular phrase or word, try to find a different way of saying the same thing, rather than repeating the original words over and over.
  • Acquaint the listener with the general topic of the conversation. Avoid sudden changes of topic. If the subject is changed, tell the hearing impaired person what you are talking about now. In a group setting, repeat questions or key facts before continuing with the discussion.
  • If you are giving specific information – such as time, place or phone numbers – to someone who is hearing impaired, have them repeat the specifics back to you. Many numbers and words sound alike.
  • Whenever possible, provide pertinent information in writing, such as directions, schedules, work assignments, etc.