Life can be hard enough already without having to endure the rigors of hearing loss. In a world of fast talkers, mumblers, and folks who feel the need to whisper their every word, unique frustrations arise. It can be terribly demanding, to the point where those of us who suffer hearing loss may wish to retreat into our proverbial shells away from social interaction altogether.
“They certainly understand that they’re outsiders in the hearing world, and no matter how good their skills at speaking and lip reading, they may never completely fit in,” writes David Ludden Ph.D.
Of course, that’s far from healthy. And most of the time, it isn’t realistic, either. So let’s speak up on how to gracefully give your best effort toward getting people to understand your ears don’t operate at optimum efficiency.
Immediately Introduce The Issue
First impressions go a long way with people. A lot can be said for the potential pitfalls of “snap judgments”, but nevertheless, we tend to deeply associate others with how they present themselves the first time we meet them. How they’re dressed, their manner of speech, their eye contact — to an extent, this will be ingrained in our minds going forward. To that end, the first words we exchange are also important.
“Positive first impressions lead to social cohesion; negative first impressions lead to biases and social prejudice,” writes Arthur Dobrin D.S.W.
Why not introduce your difficulty hearing things right alongside your name? You don’t have to be standoffish about it; you can simply say that your name is such-and-such, and “by the way, just to let you know, I’m hard-of-hearing. Please bear that in mind!” A chipper tone and a friendly smile will keep the mood warm and friendly, but you’ve instantly established the situation and saved yourself some avoidable irritation.
Periodically Reinforce The Issue
Setting aside introductions, day-to-day interaction can last for weeks, months, years, even lifetimes. Although you’ve gained a leg up on the issue if you’ve had the opportunity to address your hearing loss the moment you meet a person, you’ll likely still need to bring it up on a recurring basis.
Try not to feel too let-down or disappointed. It’s important to remember that in many cases, most of the people your friends and loved ones interact with will not have much difficulty with hearing. We all develop routines in our lives, and frequently that means building a “normal pitch” for one’s voice which is utilized in almost every social interaction. People will just need occasional reminders, gentle prodding, to remember that you’re not going to be able to understand what they’re saying unless they better-compose their voice for you.
Bring Your Issue To The Forefront
We’ve spoken about the need to reinforce your hearing loss with those you see on a regular basis, but what about all the people you’ll be briefly involved? If you’re at a restaurant and your waiter or waitress seems a bit soft-spoken, open with a few words of apology before candidly explaining the situation. It’s not that you should have a real need to apologize — after all, there’s nothing to be sorry for — but kindness has a language of its own. Take the Japanese, for example; in their culture, it seems like everybody is apologizing to everybody else every hour of the day. It can seem rather overboard, but it’s effective. It’s a sign of humbleness, and it sets things off on the right foot, so-to-speak. If your waiter is halfway decent, they’ll very likely follow up with an apology of their own, and they’ll proceed to dial up their vocal tone henceforth.
“Kindness moves us. It nourishes and heals; strengthens and uplifts,” writes Marianna Pogosyan Ph.D.
“I’m sorry, but I’m actually rather hard-of-hearing. Could you please speak up? I’d really appreciate it.” A few relatively painless words to get things under control and grant you the ability to understand. You can use this technique just about anywhere, from banks to doctor’s offices to hair salons, and so long as you monitor your own tone, you’ll find that the majority of the people you’ll be dealing with will respond warmly and cheerfully help to ensure you’re able to parse their every word.